End Plastics

Ditch Plastics to Protect Our Planet

When you speak with people who live near the facilities where plastics and other petrochemicals are produced, you will hear how the pollution released by these facilities hurts their health and diminishes their quality of life.

Pollution from the finished products is no picnic either. Perhaps you have seen a sea turtle or an otter entangled in plastic debris. Or you have read a news story about how coral reefs across the globe are now choking in microplastics. The evidence is everywhere for just how harmful plastics are to the overall health of our planet.

But Big Oil sees things differently. They know the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy is underway. The Inflation Reduction Act was the single biggest investment in climate and clean energy in American history. There is now global consensus on the need to move away from fossil fuels. Energy from solar and wind is now less expensive to produce than that from coal, oil, and gas. And recent moves from the Biden administration to limit vehicle and power plant emissions, and protect federal lands against drilling, are hastening the transition. As the transition continues, big oil companies see plastics and other petrochemical products as a way to maintain their relevance, their political clout, and their profits for decades to come. Even as we transition power grids to clean energy sources, the 430 million tons of plastic produced each year globally provides a rationale for the oil and gas companies to continue drilling, fracking, and selling their fossil fuels. It is one more way the petrochemicals industry continues to degrade the environment, hurt our health, and pollute our air and our oceans for their profits.

The science is clear: Plastics harm everyone. Studies have shown that exposure to certain plastic chemicals is linked to a higher cancer risk and a higher risk of developmental problems in children. For wildlife, especially marine wildlife, plastics are a scourge. Marine animals often mistake plastic for food and ingest it, suffering internal injuries and sometimes starving as a result. Plastic pollution also disrupts entire ecosystems, blocking sunlight penetration in oceans and hindering plant growth on land. These effects are not isolated; they combine to become larger threats to the environment and to biodiversity everywhere.

The good news is we can reduce the production and consumption of plastics. And we can start by phasing out single-use plastics. This does, however, require a multi-pronged approach. We need our government and governments around the world to enact policies that encourage reusable and sustainable alternatives to plastics. This means incentivizing grocery stores, for example, to switch from plastic bags to bulk reusable containers. It seems like a small change, but if done at scale, it is a change that can put a huge dent in plastic pollution.

We also need to promote and invest in sustainable packaging solutions. Bioplastics derived from plant-based materials, for example, offer a promising alternative no less convenient than real plastic. Additionally, research into innovative plastic-free materials, like edible coatings or algae-based packaging, holds potential. By supporting these advancements, by funding research needed to make them even better, we can create a future where plastic becomes obsolete.

None of this is to say that the transition to a plastic-free world will be easy. It will not. To be sure, if such a transition is to succeed, it will require close collaboration between policymakers and manufacturers, not to mention the buy-in (both literally and figuratively) of consumers and the broader public. That said, the cost of continued inaction is unacceptable, and the hard work needed to effect a transition away from plastics is certainly worthwhile.

We can no longer afford to allow big oil companies and the petrochemical industry to dictate our future. We deserve a world where clean air, healthy oceans, thriving ecosystems, and increasing biodiversity is a reality, not an aspiration. A plastic-free future is possible; a plastic-free planet is our responsibility. For the well-being of every creature – every human, every animal, every plant that calls Earth home – let’s work together and make it a reality.