The plastic industry says it’s a “hero” of the coronavirus pandemic. What is driving this propaganda? Single-use plastic is a big chunk of the future demand for oil forecast by OPEC or by the International Energy Agency and their other friends trying to cook the books. So if you take out single-use plastic, future demand for oil and gas will decline immediately and so will the projected revenues of that entire industry. That, in turn, has all sorts of consequences for the cost of capital of oil and gas companies, which ultimately means that they will be able to do no more new oil and gas exploration. Furthermore, they would have to close down, gradually, what they’re doing now. That’s why the plastic industry is now selling itself as a “hero” of the fight against the coronavirus – and nothing could be further from the truth.
Photo by Assaad W. Razzouk
This podcast is a little later than usual, because to be honest, I did not know where to start from.
Do you know, for example, that so far this year, and since records began in 1850,
May is the warmest may ever;
April is the warmest April ever;
March was the fourth warmest March ever;
February is the second warmest February ever;
And January is the second warmest January ever.
And to top it all up, this year is 90% likely to be the warmest year ever.
So I wanted to talk about that initially, but then I also wanted to talk about the fact that Verkhoyansk, a Russian town in the Arctic that’s usually full of snow year-round, reported an astonishing temperature on 20 June of 38 degrees Centigrade. That’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit. That was not only a record, but also likely the highest temperature ever recorded North of the Arctic circle, as Siberian heat pushes the world to our hottest year since records began in 2020. Siberia has been hot pretty much all year with temperatures up to 10 degrees centigrade higher than average.
This is enormously meaningful because when you have freakish warming in Siberia, what you also have is a melting Arctic. When you have a melting Arctic, what you also have is thawing permafrost. What this means is that land that’s been frozen for hundreds of thousands of years, in some cases, is melting. That in turn means a continuous release of methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas with catastrophic consequences, topped up by a continuous release of thousands of microbes that have been frozen for hundreds of thousands of years.
Freakish warming in Siberia means more climate change and potentially more and different and scary pandemics.
I wanted to cover that topic as well, but then I decided that instead what I wanted to focus on today (I could come back to the other two topics later this year, because I think warming is not going anywhere and it’s just getting worse), was something that really infuriates me and that’s propaganda from the plastic industry, which is pretending that it, the plastic industry, is a hero of the Coronavirus fight.
Yes, you heard that correctly.
Not even a week after the world health organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, a guy who runs the U.S. lobbying group for plastic took advantage of the moment to send a letter to the U.S. government to overturn bans on single use plastic items. What he had in mind was not medical kit. He had in mind plastic straws and plastic cups and plastic containers and plastic bags. This guy took advantage of the Coronavirus to reposition or try to reposition plastic as a hero as in the super-sanitary choice, when it comes to many applications.
He wasn’t alone. Plastics lobbyists have been everywhere in the last few months, selling safety this time (for a change) in order to be in tune with the air of the times. Because there couldn’t be anything further from the truth, because we’re already eating plastic through our food chain, drinking plastic through our water and breathing plastic through the air because microplastics are absolutely everywhere. I wanted to focus a little bit on the propaganda by the plastic industry to try and counter it and share why this is just, well, nonsense.
Welcome to Episode 38 of The Angry Clean Energy Guy, with me, Assaad Razzouk.
Plastic fantastic makes me angry on so many levels. And now the plastics industry actually thinks it’s the hero of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s outrageous. I’ve talked about plastic many times on this podcast, and I just want to summarize it quickly.
All the way back in Episode 1, I talked about how a dead whale washed up in the Philippines with 40 kilos, that’s 40 kilos, of plastic in its belly. This poor whale died of dehydration and starvation after eating 40 kilos (88 pounds) of plastic: Rice sacks, grocery bags, other plantation bags, plastic bags, you name it. It was all in her belly.
Then on Episode 5, I shared with you news that had just become official. And that was the fact that we’re being carpet bombed by so much plastic that we’re no longer just eating and drinking plastic, we’re now officially breathing it too.
I named the culprits and they fell into two categories. Those who manufacture plastic, so that’s your friends at Big Oil and Big Petrochemicals; and those who dump it on us, so those who buy that manufactured plastic and then dump it on us without much thought to recycling it or to its environmental damage. That’s some of the biggest companies in the world from Coca Cola to Pepsi Cola, to Nestle, to Dannon, to Kraft, to Proctor and Gamble, to Unilever, to Mars, to Colgate and hundreds of others.
In Episode 14 of The Angry Clean Energy Guy, I covered the fashion industry, an absolute horror show from a climate change and from an environmental perspective, all of it powered by – you guessed it – plastic. The fashion industry produces 100 billion pieces of new clothing each year. I mean, can you even picture that 100 billion pieces of new clothing each year? These are increasingly made from plastic and with pretty much zero thought as to where they will end up. So guess where they end up? They end up in the ocean, in your water, in your food and in the air that we breathe.
Then in Episode 19, I documented how recent studies established that it’s now snowing plastic in the Arctic. You heard that right. Snowing plastic in the Arctic. These studies is also documented that it was raining plastic in the Rocky Mountains and in the Pyrenees mountains. And that’s on top of what we already know, which is that 83% of global tap and bottled water is contaminated with plastic.
In Episode 20, I talked about how you can pay for your bus fare with plastic in two cities, Surabaya in Indonesia and Guayaquil in Ecuador, as examples of creative recycling and reusing strategy. I was, as you can guess, desperate to find some good news in the plastic epidemic
In Episode 23, I shed light on the fact that Big Oil, Big Gas and big chemical companies have poured $200 billion into 300 petrochemical plants across just the United States over the past eight years, plus another 108 petrochemical plants in Asia and in the Middle East, all of which are pretty much coming online by 2023 and will add to the mountain of plastic that we are being showered with.
Remember that the scale of what’s going on is really, really scary. Each human being on earth used two kilos of plastic in 1973. Fast forward about 50 years and each one of us is now using 46 kilos of plastic per year. That’s two kilos in 1973, 46 kilos today, or 23 times more.
You can think about these 46 kilos of plastic that each human being on the planet is using each year in a slightly different way. We’re producing in one year about the same amount of plastic as the entire weight of every single human being on earth. I mean, if that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is. So despite the fact that we’re up from two kilos of plastic in 1973 to 46 kilos of plastic today for each human being on the planet, there are over 400 petrochemical plants coming online within a few years that will just increase that amount stratospherically. All of these all are new and there for only one thing: To sell you more plastic, more milk jugs, more shampoo bottles, more supermarket bags, more straws, more food packaging.
Don’t get me wrong. There is some good plastic out there, and it’s going to take us a while to replace the fossil fuels that we use to produce it. That’s for example plastic that we use in medical equipment, but single use plastic growth and the delusion of single use plastic really must stop.
Do you know why it’s not stopping? It’s not stopping simply because the environmental destruction associated with plastic is not priced in, and there is no requirement for any of these plastic manufacturers and plastic distributors to recycle any of it. As a matter of fact, we do not have the plastic recycling infrastructure that we need, and 90% of plastic is not recycled.
When you hear talk about people, recycling plastic, be very sceptical because they either don’t know what they’re talking about, or they’re lying. One of the two.
Then in Episode 27 of The Angry Clean Energy Guy, I said that my number 7 out of 10 reasons to be a climate optimist is that there is a gradually stronger global pushback against single use plastic. There are more than 40 countries with some form of ban or surcharges on single use plastic.
ELIMINATE SINGLE-USE PLASTIC
The dynamics are clear: Single use plastic is a big chunk of the future demand for oil forecast by OPEC and their friends, including the International Energy Agency, the topic of my previous podcast. They’re all basically trying to cook the books because if you take out single-use plastic, what happens is that you see that demand for oil and gas plummet. Then that has all sorts of consequences for the cost of capital of oil and gas companies, which ultimately means that these companies will not be able to do more new oil and gas exploration, and they will have to close down gradually what they’re doing now.
Before coronavirus, all these people were on the defensive.
What do you do when a pandemic strikes? You never waste a crisis is what you do. So all these people went on an offensive barely a week after Coronavirus was declared a pandemic, driven by greed and using fear as a propaganda tool. That’s where that narrative of being the hero of Coronavirus comes from.
We can already see the result because there’ve been successful. Waste from protective equipment has become a growing problem everywhere as we wear disposable facemask and plastic gloves, with more and more, a large chunk, ending up in the oceans. France, for example, recently increased fines for PPE littering from 68 Euros to 135 Euros. Why? Because no one is paying any thought to reusing or recycling or even disposing of that plastic properly.
I’m not talking about the consumers using it. I’m talking about those who are manufacturing it, and those who are selling it. They’re selling a product where the environmental externalities are not priced then, and they couldn’t care less as long as they are making a profit. That they’re certainly making.
For the rest of us, it’s easy. Please throw your plastic masks and your plastic gloves in trash bins because that’s good for the environment and it’s good for the oceans. Even better, stop using plastic masks and plastic gloves and use instead washable, reusable ones – there is plenty of choice out there. That’s just common sense.
It’s the manufacturers and the distributors who are really at fault here. While it’s true that plastic performs some essential functions in society, particularly in healthcare, it is completely untrue that plastic is the hero of the Coronavirus. And as a matter of fact, tests of the Coronavirus potency on various surfaces consistently show that you don’t want it on plastic because it’s going to stay infectious there for longer than on many other surfaces, especially easier to recycle cardboard.
Guess what else? Reusable containers such as carrier bags, lunchboxes, and water bottles do not pose a risk of viral contagion. They are actually cleaner and safer than plastic.
We have to counter the surge in single use plastic use driven by this propaganda trying to exploit a pandemic.
What’s going on is not very complicated. Plastics are the principal tool the oil and gas industry and their cheerleaders at the International Energy Agency and elsewhere are using to justify to politicians and to the public rising oil demand in the next few decades.
If plastic go down, they go down, their revenue growth would disappear, their profits would be wiped out, their cost of capital would go up and their market capitalization will evaporate. As a result, their debt will become a much higher burden. They will not be able to do more new oil and gas, and they will be forced over time to close the oil and gas that they already have – with some exceptions of course, we’re not going to be without any oil and gas by 2050, but it shouldn’t be more than 10% of what we’re using at the moment.
That’s all we need to use fossil fuels for: Where we absolutely have to and nowhere else.
The entire propaganda machine headlined plastics are the hero of the coronavirus in order to prop up the market capitalization of oil, gas, and petrochemicals companies. There was a recent story that encapsulates this entire problem. There’s a $9.4 billion petrochemical plant under construction in rural Louisiana. It’s entirely premised on single-use plastic bags. It won’t be ready until 2029, nine years from now. This optimistic businesses is assuming that we will still be drowning in single-use plastic then, and indeed that we will need even more nine years from now.
Behind this petrochemical plant is a Taiwanese business called Formosa Plastics Group that are assuming not only that single use plastic is going to thrive, but that demand is actually going to double over the next 20 years. They placed a $10 billion bet that that’s what’s going to happen, that it’s going to be plastic fantastic forever.
The reason for that is partly cheap natural gas and partly the free money thrown at the fracking industry, but mostly the complete and utterly irresponsible lack of any regulations about how to recycle, reuse, or disposal of this plastic when manufactured. As a result, the entire environmental impact is completely ignored. And that is the single most important reason why plastic is cheap.
We’re using a product which is mispriced, which has better alternatives even during pandemics, yet the combination of free money, cheap natural gas, irresponsible politicians, and propaganda from companies willing to bet $10 billion on one plant, as well as friends of that company selling it, the natural gas and the Big Oil cartel, mean that we have to keep fighting to ban single use plastic in as many cities and countries as possible.
Even in the United States, one in five Americans today is dealing with some kind of ban on single use plastic.
This needs to be global and don’t let that propaganda distract you. We’re not just in the middle of a pandemic. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, which is in the middle of a climate change catastrophe which is driven by burning oil, gas, and coal and plastics are underpinning the entire business model that is supporting the continuing market capitalization and profits of the oil and gas industry.
So if you want to save the world and if you want to beat climate change, I have a really simple solution for you: Fight single use plastic everywhere.
Governments really must act to regulate it. There’s only so much that we consumers and citizens can do when we’re flooded with single use plastic and have no other choices.
Remember that warming that I was talking about at the beginning of this episode? That’s how you link it to plastic: Fight single-use plastic and change the world.
It’s not good out there: Climate change is getting out of control. The coronavirus pandemic is being exploited by plastic interests including oil and gas and petrochemical companies to make the whole thing worse. All why? Because they want to make a short term buck and they just don’t care. We can’t let them get away with that.
So fight single use plastic and talk to your governments.
Vote, make yourself heard in as many ways as possible.
Yes, by all means change your personal habits, but that’s not going to solve the problem.
The only thing that’s going to solve the problem is banning single plastic use. And we can. Remember, we’re not talking about banning it for “absolute must haves”, but we are talking about banning it everywhere else. And that includes the plastic straw, the plastic bag, food containers and all that unnecessary single use plastic that is just being rained on us.
I know I’ve been particularly angry this episode. I am sorry about that. But frankly, the last thing we needed in the middle of a pandemic is for oil and gas to actually use that pandemic in order to protect what they know is a dying business model.
And I’ve just about had it with all that.
Thank you so much for listening to this Episode 38 of The Angry Clean Energy Guy with me, Assaad Razzouk, and have a great couple of weeks.
There is so much to be angry about, if you are a clean energy guy.
Every day, so many things that happen around the world make me angry when I look at them with lenses colored by the climate change chaos unfolding everywhere around us. And I am especially angry because I know we can solve the climate change crisis if we were only trying.
Each week, I will share with you a few topics that struck me and that I was very angry about – and this will generally have to do with climate change, solar or wind power, plastic pollution, environmental degradation, wildlife, the oceans and other related topics.