Awareness of plastic pollution and the danger it introduces to our oceans continues to grow, but the industry poses another, lesser-known threat to our planet: Its manufacturing process emits massive amounts of greenhouse gasses.
Petrochemicals, the key chemical feedstocks used to make plastics, are responsible for up to 2% of global emissions, the equivalent of all of aviation. Decarbonizing plastic is considered even more complex than other tough-to-decarbonize industries such as cement and steel. This is because both its feedstocks and its production use fossil fuels.
Nevertheless, plastics could be net-zero by 2050, according to a new report from BloombergNEF, the clean energy research arm of Bloomberg LP. It will take investing an extra $759 billion to support actions such as the electrification of so-called “cracker” plants — plants that break down natural gas into small molecules needed to make plastics — and building out carbon capture and storage facilities. In addition, the report suggests money needs to be spent on research and development and the switching of feedstocks to include more biofuels.
The authors of the report say such investments must begin immediately. “Large-scale capex spending must start before the end of the decade if the petrochemical industry has any hope of reaching net-zero,” said Ilhan Savut, an analyst with BNEF’s sustainable materials team and lead author of the report. “Investments today will be key to managing longer-term costs and pay dividends post-2035.”