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$180bn investment in plastic factories feeds global packaging binge

$180bn investment in plastic factories feeds global packaging binge thumbnail

Colossal funding in manufacturing plants by fossil fuel companies will increase plastic production by 40%, risking permanent pollution of the earth

One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, with most ending up in landfill or in the sea.
One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, with most ending up in landfill or in the sea. Photograph: Zakir Chowdhury/Barcroft Images

The global plastic binge which is already causing widespread damage to oceans, habitats and food chains, is set to increase dramatically over the next 10 years after multibillion dollar investments in a new generation of plastics plants in the US.

Fossil fuel companies are among those who have ploughed more than $180bn since 2010 into new “cracking” facilities that will produce the raw material for everyday plastics from packaging to bottles, trays and cartons.

The new facilities – being built by corporations like Exxon Mobile Chemical and Shell Chemical – will help fuel a 40% rise in plastic production in the next decade, according to experts, exacerbating the plastic pollution crisis that scientist warn already risks “near permanent pollution of the earth.”

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

“We are already producing more disposable plastic than we can deal with, more in the last decade than in the entire twentieth century, and millions of tonnes of it are ending up in our oceans.”

The huge investment in plastic production has been driven by the shale gas boom in the US. This has resulted in one of the raw materials used to produce plastic resin – natural gas liquids – dropping dramatically in price.

The American Chemistry Council says that since 2010 this has led to $186bn dollars being invested in 318 new projects. Almost half of them are already under construction or have been completed. The rest are at the planning stage.

“I can summarise [the boom in plastics facilities] in two words,” Kevin Swift, chief economist at the ACC, told the Guardian. “Shale gas.”

He added: “There has been a revolution in the US with the shale gas technologies, with the fracking, the horizontal drilling. The cost of our raw material base has gone down by roughly two thirds.”

The findings come amid growing concern about the scale of plastics pollution around the world. Earlier this year scientists warned that it risked near permanent contamination of the planet and at a UN environment conference in Kenya this month the scale of plastic in the sea was described as an “ocean armageddon”.

Plastic waste washed up on the coast of the Philippines.
Plastic waste washed up on the coast of the Philippines.
Photograph: Jes Aznar/Getty Images

In June a Guardian investigation revealed that a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute with most ending up in landfill or the sea. Earlier this month, UK environment secretary Michael Gove said reducing plastic pollution was a key focus, adding that he had been “haunted” by images of the damage being done from David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II TV series.

However, campaigners warn that despite the rising tide of concern, powerful corporations are pressing ahead with a new generation of plastic production facilities that will swamp efforts to move the global economy away from single use, throw away plastic products.

Steven Feit, from the Centre for Environmental International Law which has researched the impact of the US shale boom on plastics, said: “The link between the shale gas boom in the United States and the ongoing – and accelerating – global plastics crisis cannot be ignored.

“In the US, fossil fuel and petrochemical companies are investing hundreds of billions of dollars to expand plastic production capacity… All this buildout, if allowed to proceed, will flood the global market with even more disposable, unmanageable plastic for decades to come.”

Athough the majority of the new investment is in the US, the impact will ripple outwards in the form of vast new supplies of raw materials for plastics being transported to Europe and China.

Petrochemical giant Ineos has been shipping natural gas liquids from the US to cracking plants in Europe and the UK on huge “dragon ships” for the past year.

Last month the company announced it will ship the first NGLs from the US to China in 2019 where it will be turned into plastic resin at a new cracking facility in Taixing China.

Roland Geyer, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, was the lead author of a study earlier this year revealing that humans have produced 8.3bn tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, with the majority ending up in landfill or polluting the world’s oceans and continents. The report warned that plastic, which does not degrade for hundreds of years, risked “near-permanent contamination” of the earth.

He said he was deeply troubled by the expansion in plastic production.

“I am now all but convinced that the plastic waste/pollution problem will remain unmanageable without serious source reduction efforts,” he told the Guardian. “Building out production capacity is obviously the opposite of source reduction.”

But experts believe the new facilities will lock in an increase in plastic production for years to come.

Matthew Thoelke, executive director at IHS Markit analysts in Germany and an expert in the global chemical industry, said the expansion in the US would be a critical part of a 40% increase in global plastics production over the next decade.

“This will help meet growing demand for plastic in the existing big markets of the US, Europe and China as well as a predicted steep increase in demand in India and south east Asia,” he said.

But the American Chemistry Council said the plastics boom had brought huge economic benefits to the US creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and allowing the manufacture of a wide range of important products from medical supplies to auto parts, piping to technology.

Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council also defended the environmental impact of plastic, citing a study from 2016 that found using plastic reduces environmental damage.

“Advanced plastics enable us to do more with less in in almost every facet of life and commerce. From reducing packaging, to driving lighter cars, to living in more fuel-efficient homes, plastics help us reduce energy use, carbon emissions and waste.”

The Guardian

42 Comments on "$180bn investment in plastic factories feeds global packaging binge"

  1. dave thompson on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 1:23 pm 

    Anytime corporate capitalism can figure out how to maximize profit for internalization, the externalization of cost is placed on the people and environment. But Hooray for a bigger pie.

  2. Sissyfuss on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 1:34 pm 

    Exactly Dave. Waste is essential to capitalism
    as long as it doesn’t have to pay for cleaning up after itself.

  3. Boat on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 1:35 pm 


    The smart phone will replace land lines. Amazon is getting rid of the need for 10’s of thousands of stores. Look at the US FF market. Millions of drivers added and miles driven rising with fairly flat consumption. Less jobs and less infrastructure is better for the environment. Now we need less people to go with the success story.

  4. jwarner on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 2:20 pm 

    What a wonderful world it can be

  5. Anonymouse1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 2:26 pm 

    We definitely need less people retart. How about starting with… for example. The resources saved not keeping your retarded ass around could be re-directed towards much better uses. For example, all the instant ramen and corn you currently stuff your retarded face with, could be sent to starving people in say, ‘Venz’. And the crayons you currently suck on, could be used to help educate children that will one day grow up to be intelligent adults(ie not utter retards). But the benefits of this less people plan dont stop there. Since you’re from texASS, the resources you free up, could save a dozens or more third worlders lives, allowing them to live to adulthood.

    Im liking this less people(retard) plan of yours already- boatietard. That pea-brain of yours actually came up with something useful, simply amazing. This is such a great idea, feel free to the run idea by your buddy cloggen-zimmer, and, throw in the exceptionalist as well. Hes been feeling chronically depressed as it is of late, and would surely jump at the chance to help you save the world as well. Maybe he could…jump off a bridge or something, you two work out the details.

  6. Cloggie on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 2:49 pm 

    There are so many angry, frustrated people on this board. I expect mouse to explode any minute now.

  7. Davy on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 3:01 pm 

    neder, lol, I can just imagine the dumbass basement dweller exploding or better yet spontaneously combusting. I can see him now smoke coming out his ears then pooof….flaming up in a putrid nasty greenish smoke. Lookie there neder, you and I have a common enemy that makes us enemies kinda friends. Sounds like the ME.

  8. Sissyfuss on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 3:14 pm 

    Human spontaneous combustion is no joke. Stay away from open flames, Boast.

  9. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 4:15 pm 

    The only solution to plastic pollution,
    is industrial scale garbage incineration.

    The far left loonies are opposed to that,
    because they are opposed to everything,
    especially if it involves combustion.

    The far right Trump voters are opposed to
    it, because they too busy shooting guns
    into the air and testing their bump stocks,
    and the rich ones like Trump and
    his buddies are too stupid to realize they
    could make money authorizing and
    building the incinerators.

    But every time a pop bottle kills a dolphin,
    blame the dumb stupid lefty liberals
    for opposing the trash incinerators that
    would solve the problem.

    Also blame every last foreign hell hole
    like China or Africa because every last
    one of their citizens doesn’t give one
    crap about the environment.

    Every last one of them tosses their plastic
    pop bottle into the river, with the cap
    tightened down, to make sure it floats
    and kills a whale.

    Third worlders don’t give a crap about
    anything environmental,
    They will put used motor oil into their
    baby’s bottle, then brag they saved money.

  10. GregT on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 5:12 pm 

    “neder, you and I have a common enemy that makes us enemies kinda friends.”

    Sounds like you missed your calling Anonymouse1. You should have been a diplomat. I mean Davy, and the neder-nazi, kinda forming an alliance?

    I have to admit, I’m kinda shocked, that one really took me by surprise.

  11. Anonymouse1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 5:18 pm 

    And why not, they are both creationists, love war, Israel, AND, wait for it, they are both complete dumbasses.

    A match made it heaven, or Yahweh at any rate.

  12. Davy on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 5:24 pm 

    Aren’t you cute greggie. You west coast Canadians are so uptight when you try to be funny it comes out stupid. The best word to describe you and the millennial waste case is dork. What is worse is you don’t contribute. When is the last time either of you contributed real informative news? You flood the board with stalking and pricking to enable your extremist pervert buddies. You are definitely like a weed that needs to be pulled or burned down with some roundup so something real can take root.

  13. makati1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 5:27 pm 

    Totally agree, Anon. Complete dumb asses.

  14. makati1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 5:49 pm 

    Is Freedom House pro (supported by) the Empire?

    If the stats are correct then:
    The most free are Norway, Sweden and Finland at 100%, then Canada and the Netherlands at 99%
    The US is 89% and sliding down…”As Global Democracy Declines, Trump Embraces Dictators”

    Then we get to the empire’s “enemies” at:
    Russia 20%, Iran at 17%, China at 15% and N.Korea at 3%. No bias there! LMAO

    Interesting! Israel, the murdering, empire managing piece of shit country is rated at 80% free. What a joke! Absolute US/Jew propaganda site.


  15. Davy on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 5:55 pm 

    It is safe to come out of your little hide billy, your pervert extremist buddies are here to help you across the street. If you are nice they might just assist you with your diaper.

  16. GregT on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 6:34 pm 

    “You are definitely like a weed that needs to be pulled or burned down with some roundup so something real can take root.”

    Roundup is illegal in Canada, for obvious reasons.

  17. makati1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 6:42 pm 

    Roundup should be illegal everywhere, along with Monsanto and it murdering petrochemical/GMO buddies. I cannot wait until globalization is diminished to necessities and nothing more.

  18. makati1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 6:46 pm 

    Followup: “If the general public understood how vulnerable our reliance on global shipping made us, they’d all become preppers overnight. Trucks, planes, and cargo ships are responsible for just about everything modern life depends upon.”

    The key words are “modern life” as in the Western culture of consumer waste. Global JIT deliveries are not needed/available in most areas of the world. Only in the West. And the West will feel the most pain when the system breaks down, which it will. Be patient.

  19. Anonymouse1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 6:48 pm 

    Wow, mak, talk about ham-fisted propaganda mill you found there. Russia = 20 score (not free), riiiight. That web shit, I mean, site, has NED and friends written all over it.

    Ukraine: ‘Partly free’ lol. Wtf does that mean. Partly free resources for western banks and corporations?

    South Korea: Long time military dictatorship by a single family, completely under washingdums thumb, qualifies as ‘free’ of course.

    I think I understand what the assholes who colored in that map mean by ‘free’ and ‘not free’.

    ‘Free’ = Free for the taking. As in, free oil, free timber, free technology, free-for-all for uS and allied corporations to more or less plunder as they see fit. And the locals will (mostly) thank you for it too!

    ‘Not free’ = Resources are not free for uS\raeli corporate plunder and piracy and the locals either control their resources in whole or in the majority. AND rudely insist that the uS and friends actually pay for whatever it is they want to buy at fair market prices.*

    *Not free is also often synonymous with targeted by CIA\Mossad\NED\NGOs, sanctions and 24/7 hostile media coverage. IE, the uSraeli regime change complex is gunning for you. The eventual goal, is to help move your country into the ‘free’ category. Free for the taking.

  20. Davy on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 6:51 pm 

    billy, what is the status of your big move to the fantasy farm…any updates? Did the trucks ever deliver the 100 tons of supplies you told us about last month?

  21. Davy on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 6:52 pm 

    calm down mouse you are acting like a pervert.

  22. makati1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 6:55 pm 

    ““Why throw money at defense when everything is falling down around us? Do we need to spend more money on our military (about $600 billion this year) than the next seven countries combined? Do we need 1.4 million active military personnel and 850,000 reserves when the enemy at the moment — ISIS — numbers in the low tens of thousands? If so, it seems there’s something radically wrong with our strategy. Should 55% of the federal government’s discretionary spending go to the military and only 3% to transportation when the toll in American lives is far greater from failing infrastructure than from terrorism? Does California need nearly as many active military bases (31, according to as it has UC and state university campuses (33)? And does the state need more active duty military personnel (168,000, according to Governing magazine) than public elementary school teachers (139,000)?”— Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times”

    Good questions.

  23. makati1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 6:57 pm 

    Anon, you get the same picture I did when I looked at the numbers. I wonder, is Soros’ “contributions” funding Freedom House?

  24. Anonymouse1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 7:08 pm 


    Smith Richardson Foundation
    The Lilly Endowment
    The Schloss Family Foundation
    Kim G. Davis
    The 21st Century ILGWU Heritage Fund
    The Reed Foundation

  25. Davy on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 7:16 pm 

    We need to rename this site PO and jew baiting dot com or maybe jew baiters anonymouse.

  26. Anonymouse1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 7:32 pm 

    No, its more like an open support group for dumbasses and retards. If you are anything to go by, not a terribly successful one, but its the thought that counts, right dumbass?

    Now, how did you make out at the mental health clinic?

  27. GregT on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 7:33 pm 

    “And why not, they are both creationists, love war, Israel, AND, wait for it, they are both complete dumbasses.”

    You obviously have Cloggie mixed up with somebody else Anonymouse.

  28. Davy on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 7:39 pm 

    he is pretty dumb greggie so I doubt it. greggie do you have another boyfriend?

  29. GregT on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 7:59 pm 

    “greggie do you have another boyfriend?”

    Nope, still as happily married as I always have been.

    How about you? I can’t imagine any self respecting woman being overly fond of any male who calls other people pussies and cunts.

  30. Davy on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 8:05 pm 

    greggie, does the wife know about your latent sexual issues?

  31. GregT on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 8:42 pm 

    My wife is very well aware of my sexual preferences Davy. We’ve slept together almost every single night that we’ve been married, but of course you already knew that.

    We’ve had this conversation many times before.

  32. MASTERMIND on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 10:38 pm 


    Do you eat your wife’s pussy every night? You crunch and munch bastard!

  33. makati1 on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 10:55 pm 

    Greg, maybe Davy’s wife is four legged and goes bahhhhhh?

  34. Davy on Wed, 14th Feb 2018 2:35 am 

    billy, you are another one like the mouse1 that has the bestiality obsession. Is your boyfriend getting boring? Do you have fantasies about the monkey troop at the fantasy farm?

  35. deadly on Wed, 14th Feb 2018 5:14 am 

    Plastic is everywhere you go, pole to pole.

    Especially in California where the women have more plastic than a Honda.

    So it has been said. Plastic rules, ask Pamela Anderson.

    You can’t sell celery and broccoli in a plastic bin, they have to be individually wrapped in plastic if you want to sell celery and broccoli. Plastic is a marketing tool.

    All Americans need to know is the time of day, the weather conditions, the road conditions, and their way to work.

    The steelworks in Pennsylvania can’t do it alone, they need people to make it happen.

  36. Shortend on Wed, 14th Feb 2018 8:19 am 

    Damn, that old fart was kidding when he told Dustin Hoffman that the future is in Plastics.
    Too late now, the next evolutionary stage will be plastic.

  37. makati1 on Wed, 14th Feb 2018 8:58 am 

    Junkyard dog Amerika is having it’s teeth pulled one at a time … and will soon be toothless. Even little North Korea is laughing and it’s total population is about that of metro New York City. WIKI

    “…Russia’s banking sector had been provided with all the necessary conditions for operating lenders and payment systems in case of disconnection from SWIFT. According to the regulator, 90 percent of ATMs in Russia were ready to accept the Mir payment system, a domestic version of Visa and MasterCard.”

    Sanctions? What sanctions? More and more countries are thumbing their noses at the paper tiger. Soon IT will be sidelined and insignificant. From 40% of the world’s trade in 1945 to less than 15% today. Slip slidin’…

  38. Davy on Wed, 14th Feb 2018 9:21 am 

    Big deal billyt, did you google the size of Russia’s economy? I am not diminishing at all this Putin achievement but your interpretation is as usual extremist and unsubstantiated by reality. IOW emotional agenda.

  39. Kenz300 on Wed, 14th Feb 2018 1:37 pm 

    More companies need to use recycled plastic as a raw material for new products. Plastic waste needs to become more valuable as raw material. Companies need to step up and use recycled materials. People need to seek and buy goods with recycled material content.

  40. Shortend on Thu, 15th Feb 2018 8:00 am 

    Knezs…blah blah blah…and we need to STOP sSitfing inOur nest….

  41. Anonymouse1 on Fri, 16th Feb 2018 6:45 pm 

    KenZbot is such a dumbass parrot its not even funny anymore. Of course he thinks recycling plastic is just awesome. Ask him about hydrogen cars, or stupid poor people have too babies, or any other of his dumbass talking points.

    HE never answers of course, he just drops in and out, cycling through his nonsense in an endless loop as if no one got it the previous 500 times he dropped by to say the exact same thing.

  42. onlooker on Fri, 16th Feb 2018 7:37 pm 

    ANON,Kenz is a shill bot. Someone is paying him/her to get out certain messages

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