The Plastic-Climate Problem

Jared Saylor and Kristen McDonald
Date: April 19, 2024
Rear view of young male worker in helmet, pollution mask, and reflective clothing observing waste falling from conveyor belt onto pile at facility.

An alarming new report published by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) confirms that plastic production is a huge contributor to global climate change. Gone unchecked, the report’s authors estimate that by mid-century, global climate change pollution from the plastics industry could triple, accounting for one-fifth of Earth’s remaining carbon budget.

The report comes as the fourth United Nations’ International Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (or INC4) begins in Ottawa, Canada. Representatives[GU1]  from 193 U.N. state delegates will attend– along with hundreds of observers from industry and civil society.  

This research is the most comprehensive to date on the topic of plastic’s climate impacts, and underscores an earlier Pacific Environment report, “Stemming the Plastic-Climate Crisis”, which calls for a 75% reduction of plastics to keep within the important threshold of the 1.5 degree temperature change scenario.

The LBNL report provides detailed analysis on the carbon footprint of different kinds of plastics and production processes. And as a result, this report paints an even more alarming picture than our own report, showing that a business-as-usual scenario could result in plastic eating up one-fifth of the global carbon budget. The report shows that decarbonizing production through green power alone is not enough, since as much as 70% of the fossil fuels to make plastics are for raw materials.

Plastic production is skyrocketing: growing over 22,000% in the past 70 years. As many industries move toward more sustainable fuel sources, the fossil fuel industry is desperate to find continuing uses for their dirty resources — and single-use plastic products are their answer. 

That’s why Pacific Environment calls for a strong Global Plastics Treaty, a reduction of plastic by at least 75% and the phase-out of single-use plastics by 2040.

As our staff attend INC4 and push for a strong Global Plastics Treaty, you can help by signing a petition to the Biden administration encouraging them to show stronger leadership. The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of plastics, and we must do our part to solve the problem. We are calling on the Biden administration to support mandatory, ambitious, and enforceable control measures and obligations , and prioritize the reduction of plastic production including a rapid phase out the most harmful plastics and additives, closing of trade loopholes, and ceasing to permit new or expanded facilities and infrastructure and more.

Learn more about our work stemming the plastic-climate crisis and sign the petition today!