Photographer: Thomas Hawk

Investment industry causes tsunami of plastic

Photographer: Thomas HawkAmsterdam, 2 november 2017 – The only way to combat plastic soup is by drastically cutting back on plastics. But in actual fact the opposite is happening, according to a recent analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

More than 99% of all plastics are made from fossil fuels. The oil and plastic industry are strongly intertwined. Exxon is the petrol at the pump as well as the plastic in your bottle of spring water. ExxonMobil, DowDuPont, Shell, Chevron and BP are all integrated companies which make profit from both fossil fuels and plastic production.

At present around 8 percent of the world’s oil production is used to make plastics. Thanks to cheap fossil fuels, in particular shale gas in the United States, that percentage is set to rise to 20%. Worldwide new investments are being made in cracking installations which produce ethylene and propylene as raw material for plastics. Last year the American Chemistry Council announced that until 2023 the US chemical industry will invest 164 billion dollars in 264 new factories for plastic production. Huge sums are also being invested in plastics in China and the Middle-East.

New sales markets will have to be found for the expected flood of extra plastics, mainly in single-use packaging. The only real solution to the environmental plastic soup crisis — a drastic cut back in plastics — will never be achieved, if for no other reason, because all these new factories will have to run for years before investors recuperate their investment.


Center for International Environmental Law has launched a new series, Fueling Plastics, which analyses the close ties between the oil and the plastic industry.