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Friday, 12 January 2018 06:14

Shale Gas Production Ignites New Push for Polluting Plastics


plasticbags33Plastic bags will likely accelerate in their pollution of the planet. (Photo: European Parliament)

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We welcome the New Year with an expectation of a better future as the clock hits midnight and we enter January. However, among the disappointments we are facing already is a likely increase in the production of polluting plastics. Specifically, the scourge of non-recyclable plastic bags appears to be gearing up for an increase.

On December 26, 2017, the Guardian posted an article that predicts $180 billion dollars will be spent by fossil fuel companies on increasing plastic production, including plastic bags. The article warns that the investment -- which will raise plastic output by approximately 40 percent -- is "risking permanent pollution of the earth." Symbolic of the destructiveness of non-recyclable plastics to the environment is the omnipresent plastic bag.

In fact, 2016 began with a forewarning of the onslaught of plastic for which Big Oil is preparing. An EcoWatch article from January 2016 offered this chilling portrayal of the worldwide threat of plastic production:

There will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, according to a new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Photo credit: Plastic Pollution

Every year "at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean—which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute," the report finds. "If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050.

"In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight)."

The EcoWatch article also noted that plastic production has increased by a factor of 20 since 1964, and it is expected to reach four times that amount by 2050. These forecasts alone -- along with other planetary harm such as increased oil drilling and fracking -- belie the greenwashing notion perpetuated by Big Oil advertising, which proclaims that oil companies are attempting to transform themselves into environmentally friendly entities.

In fact, the Guardian report attributes much of the growing plastic production to the shale gas growth in the United States, and probably Canada: "This has resulted in one of the raw materials used to produce plastic resin -- natural gas liquids -- dropping dramatically in price." In short, fracking and shale oil production are harmful beyond their impact on climate change and water and soil contamination. They are also driving the surge in ruinous plastic manufacturing.

A growing number of municipalities and other governing bodies have levied fees on plastic bags or banned them. In September of last year, The New York Times called for the elimination of "the use of plastic microbeads and single-use plastic bags by 2022." However, if the trend toward increased plastic contamination continues, pressure to reduce or eliminate the production of throwaway plastic bags will be necessary. It will not be sufficient to regulate consumption -- and that has proven a slow and arduous process, in any case. After all, just last year, Gov. Mario Cuomo signed legislation blocking a $0.05 fee on plastic bags used by consumers in New York City.

The Guardian article highlights the integral relationship between Big Oil and plastic production, and its ominous implications:

"We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realizing we should use far less of it," said Carroll Muffett, president of the US Center for International Environmental Law, which has analyzed the plastic industry.

"Around 99% of the feedstock for plastics is fossil fuels, so we are looking at the same companies, like Exxon and Shell, that have helped create the climate crisis. There is a deep and pervasive relationship between oil and gas companies and plastics."

Greenpeace UK's senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge said any increase in the amount of plastic ending up in the oceans would have a disastrous impact.

While we enter 2018 with a commitment to make our planet less vulnerable to toxic industrial waste, it is vital to remember that the big polluters are not stepping on the brakes. In fact, they are accelerating the destruction of the Earth.