What is the plastic pollution crisis?
The flow of plastics into our environment has reached crisis proportions, and the evidence is most clearly on display in our oceans. It is estimated that up to 12 million metric tons of plastic enter our ocean each year.
However, plastic is not just an ocean and waste problem, it is also a climate, health and social justice problem. 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels, like fracked gas and oil, and it contributes to climate change throughout its life-cycle.
As global demand for oil declines, the fossil fuel industry is turning to plastics to stay afloat. Big plastic-polluting corporations like Coca-Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo are driving this growth and their failure to end their reliance on single-use plastics and invest in reuse and refill is contributing to fossil fuel production expansion, and laying the groundwork for a devastating boom in single-use plastics. And if industry has its way, plastic production could double by 2030.
The fossil fuel industry’s increased reliance on plastics will be just as harmful for people and the planet. Beyond continuing to drive the climate crisis, petrochemical and plastic production have deadly health and environmental impacts and a long history of environmental racism, from the U.S. Gulf Coast's “Cancer Alley” where the plastic industry is poisoning Black, Brown and frontline communities to China's Cancer Village in the Global South.
How did the plastic pollution crisis happen?
In the 1970s, the petrochemical and fossil fuel industry, alongside consumer goods giants, spent millions of dollars on ads to push the myth of plastic recycling to trick customers into believing that recycling was a real solution for the explosion of plastic packaging.
We now know that over 90% of plastic is not recycled, and that rhetoric was an industry smokescreen in order to pump out more and more plastics for profit. Recycling is not — and has never been — a real solution for plastics, and our environment, oceans, and communities are paying the devastating price for the crisis.
What can we do about plastic pollution?
As the makers of plastic — the oil and gas industry — double down on plastics as the next frontier for future petrochemical production, we must fight back to expose the fossil fuel industry hiding behind plastics. And demand action from the biggest plastic polluting corporations fueling the plastic crisis by continuing to cut off a major lifeline of the fossil fuel industry: single-use plastics.
It’s time these companies acknowledge the entire destructive life-cycle of plastics, stop propping up the fossil fuel industry, and commit to moving away from single-use plastic completely. It’s time to implement sustainable refill and reuse systems on a global scale. Our future depends on it.
And with enough pressure from our supporters and allies around the world, we can demand the biggest companies, like Coca-Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo, stop fueling the plastic pollution and climate crises by investing in reuse and refill solutions.