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How do plastics contribute to greenhouse gas emissions?

I Wanna Say Just One Word To You. Are You Listening? Plastics.

Plastics release greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at every stage in their life cycle, from creation to disposal. As global markets rely increasingly on plastics, CO2 emissions from the plastic industry continue to grow. In a business-as-usual scenario, researchers at the Center for International Environmental Law project that plastic emissions will reach at least 2.8 gigatons per year by 2050. This is equivalent to 615 full-capacity 500 megawatt coal plants.[1] The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that in 2060, plastic production, conversion, and waste will release 4.3 gigatons of GHG emissions.[2]
 
Traditional plastics are composed of refined coal, natural gas, or crude oil, and are projected to account for 20% of all oil consumption by 2050. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 12.5-13.5 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent are emitted per year solely from extracting and transporting natural gas for plastic feedstocks.[3]
 
Plastic monomers are created from these raw materials through emission-intensive chemical processes, commonly known as “cracking.” Plastic materials like polyethylene and polypropylene are produced through chaining these “cracked” monomers. By 2030, global steam cracking could be responsible for up to 286 million metric tons of CO2 emitted per year.[4]
 
What are bioplastics?
           
Bioplastics are plastic alternatives that blend natural materials with existing plastic monomers to reduce dependence on fossil fuels for plastic production. However, many existing bioplastics are prohibitively expensive and difficult for manufacturers to seamlessly integrate into industrial processes. Existing bioplastics could cost anywhere from 20% to 100% more than traditional plastics.[5] Some bioplastics also do not significantly reduce CO2 emissions along the plastic production cycle because of emission-intensive agricultural practices.[6]
 
Applied Bioplastics: Affordable and Effective Bioplastics for a Healthier Future
 
Applied Bioplastics is a Houston-based company founded in 2019, decarbonizing durable plastics by combining sustainable fibers from a large number of common plant species with recycled, bio-based, and virgin plastic resins. The resulting composites are competitive with standard durable plastics on price and performance, and can be used in standard manufacturing processes, meaning there is no cost to adopt.

They are able to produce a commodity that typically has a 0.5% profit margin while enjoying a 15% profit margin, replace a commodity that produces 2kg of CO2 per kg with one that produces 1kg of CO2 per kg (a 50% emissions reduction!), and have a proven path to licensing this technology to some of the world's largest plastic producers. With a major distributorship agreement already signed, and several paid pilots ongoing with some of the world's largest manufacturers, including three potential licensees, Applied Bioplastics appears well positioned to make an impact in the plastics industry.

Applied Bioplastics’ Current Projects
 
Applied Bioplastics is currently using their technology to produce sustainable building materials for temporary refugee housing in Bangladesh. Their initiative partners with major local NGOs as well as local manufacturers. They are also investing in research and development for improvements to their plastic alternative, and expect to achieve an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions.

 

[1]“Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,” Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), May 2019, https://www.ciel.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Plastic-and-Climate-FINAL-2019.pdf.
[2] “Plastic Leakage and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Increasing,” OECD, accessed October 31, 2022, https://www.oecd.org/environment/plastics/increased-plastic-leakage-and-greenhouse-gas-emissions.htm.
[3] “Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,” CIEL.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ed Grabianowski, “What Is the Future of Bioplastics?,” HowStuffWorks, August 24, 2022, https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/future-of-bioplastics.htm.
[6] “Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,” CIEL.

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