Climate Tracker

Published: February 9, 2023

Topic: Events

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time, with millions of tons of plastic waste entering the ocean every year. However, the impact of plastic pollution goes beyond the harm it causes to marine life and ecosystems. Recent research has shown that plastic waste can also contribute to the acceleration of climate change, highlighting the need for immediate action to address this growing crisis.

In a recent webinar hosted by Climate Tracker and Break Free from Plastic, “Breaking the Plastic Cycle: An Overview of the State of Play in Asia Pacific”, speakers delved into the complex relationship between plastic pollution and the climate crisis, exploring the ways in which plastic production and disposal contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and the role that consumers, corporations, and governments can play in finding solutions.

Here are the highlights of the event:

Marian Ledesma, Greenpeace Philippines Zero-waste campaigner discussed the links between the plastic crisis and the climate emergency.

  • The world is facing a triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss, and pollution, with plastic pollution belonging to the last category but being interconnected to the climate and to biodiversity loss.
  • Plastic pollution has a direct connection to the climate emergency, as 99% of plastics come from fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas.
  • The lifecycle of plastic, from resource extraction to production to disposal, produces greenhouse gasses and contributes to the climate crisis, with the estimated 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents emitted in 2015 alone.
  • The plastic industry, including fast-moving consumer goods companies, plan to ramp up plastic production despite highly publicized climate commitments, and major fossil fuel companies like Shell, Chevron, and Dell have been reported to have ties to plastic packaging manufacturers.
  • Reusable packaging is less carbon intensive than single use packaging.
  • An assessment showed that reusing glass bottles for food and drinks at least three times could save 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually.
  • The reduction in carbon emissions could be significant if all single use plastics were switched to reusable and refillable options.

Swathi Seshadri of Centre for Financial Accountability talked about how the petrochemical industry is becoming the biggest driver of oil consumption globally, accounting for 14% of crude oil and a percent of natural gas use.

  • According to the IEA, CO2 emissions from the chemical sector were 18% of industrial CO2 emissions, excluding the production of plastics and emissions at the end of life or waste management.
  • The petrochemical industry positions itself as essential and pushes the use of single-use products like packaging and other forms of plastic.
  • The big oil companies are not stopping production, but shifting from fossil fuels as an energy source to fossil fuels as a material source, with petrochemicals as the largest chunk of materials produced.
  • The refining industry can seamlessly shift production from gasoline to petrochemicals, and companies like Reliance Industries can make huge profits even during economic struggles like COVID.
  • Plastic is the material with the fastest-growing demand for oil since 1970, surpassing other materials like cement.
  • Petrochemicals are essential to the developing world trade, with plastics being the largest component of petrochemical production, followed by pesticides and pharma.
  • The Asia Pacific region is projected to have a total growth of 35.2% in refining and petrochemical production capacity by 2030.

Arpita Bhagat, who is the Asia Pacific plastic policy officer of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives discussed why plastic burning and chemical recycling do not solve the plastic problem and instead worsen the climate crisis.

  • Plastic pollution is a lifecycle problem that has negative impacts on both the environment and human rights
  • Plastic is made from oil or gas and the entire process, from production to disposal, contributes to the climate crisis
  • Plastic contains chemical additives, such as bfas, which are harmful to human health
  • Only 9% of plastic is recycled and the production rate is increasing, leading to growing greenhouse gas emissions
  • The demand for plastic is projected to increase to over 1000 million metric tons per year
  • Recycling is not the solution as it is not widely practiced, and the plastic industry is promoting incineration and waste burning as solutions, but these practices produce toxic emissions and impact nearby communities
  • Plastic burning results in the release of harmful toxins and contaminated water, soil, and air
  • The public and policymakers must take action to limit plastic production and use in order to address the plastic pollution crisis.

Trisia Farrelly, the co-founder of the Aotearoa Plastic Pollution Alliance tackled how the global plastics treaty is shaping up post INC-1.

  • The Plastics Treaty secretariat was instructed to create an options document outlining the key elements of the treaty, including control measures, obligations, voluntary actions, and means of implementation.
  • Over 170 submissions have been made by countries and civil society organizations and 7 submissions from governments so far, with the deadline being February 10th.
  • The first meeting of the intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC1) saw discussions about the relationship between plastics and fossil fuels, the full life cycle of plastics including the extraction of plastics feedstocks; plastics as a complex mix of chemicals; the planetary boundaries framework; just transition; and plastics’ impacts on human rights and human and environmental health.
  • Climate change was also a significant topic of discussion and there were some interventions calling for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies.
  • There were debates about the type of treaty needed (top-down mandatory or bottom-up voluntary; or a hybrid model).
  • Plastic pollution is part of a larger issue that also includes climate change, biodiversity loss, and waste, chemicals, and pollution, and there is a need for policy integration for complementarity and to avoid duplication across different multilateral environmental agreements.
  • The Secretariat is organizing a workshop so that submitters can speak briefly to their submissions and an open-ended working group is currently underway for the science policy panel on the sound management of chemicals and waste.

Join our next event!

Webinar 2: Impacts of Plastics on Human Health

  • Date: February 14, 2023
  • Time: 2:30 pm India | 5:00 pm Manila
  • Platform: Zoom

Topics:

  • Impacts of plastics on human health
  • Impacts of waste imports on communities and the challenges of recycling plastics
  • Impacts of microplastics on communities