The report by the Center for International Environment Law estimates the greenhouse gas footprint of plastic for the first time.
“After the extraction of fossil fuels to produce plastic, the carbon footprint of a material which has become ubiquitous across the globe continues through the refining process, and on well past its useful life as a drinks bottle or plastic bag, through the way it is disposed of and the plastic afterlife,” the report says.
“At current levels, greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C,” the report says.
“With the petrochemical and plastic industries planning a massive expansion in production, the problem is on track to get much worse.”
Plastic Production Expansion and Emissions Growth Will Exacerbate the Climate Crisis.
The plastic and petrochemical industries’ plans to expand plastic production threaten to exacerbate plastic’s climate impacts and could make limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C impossible. If the production, disposal, and incineration of plastic continue on their present growth trajectory, by 2030, these global emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year—equivalent to more than 295 five-hundred-megawatt coal plants. By 2050, plastic production and incineration could emit 2.8 gigatons of CO2 per year, releasing as much emissions as 615 five-hundred-megawatt coal plants. Critically, these annual emissions will accumulate in the atmosphere over time. To avoid overshooting the 1.5°C target, aggregate global greenhouse emissions must stay within a remaining (and quickly declining) carbon budget of 420–570 gigatons of carbon. If growth in plastic production and incineration continue as predicted, their cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will be over 56 gigatons CO2e, or between 10–13 percent of the total remaining carbon budget. As this report was going to press, new research in Nature Climate Change reinforced these findings, reaching similar conclusions while applying less conservative assumptions that suggest the impact could be as high as 15 percent by 2050. By 2100, exceedingly conservative assumptions would result in cumulative carbon emissions from plastic of nearly 260 gigatons, or well over half of the carbon budget.