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Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Plastics Are Predicted to Rise

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A sharp increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the petrochemical industry — which includes plastic, fertilizer and pharmaceutical companies — threatens to erode climate benefits from reductions in other sectors, according to a report being issued Friday.

“When we look at the years to come, the petrochemical sector is by far the largest driver of global oil demand growth, much higher than cars, much higher than trucks, aviation, and shipping,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, which issued the report.

Petrochemicals are currently the largest industrial energy consumer and the third-largest industrial emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. The report found that direct greenhouse gas emissions from petrochemicals would increase 20 percent by 2030 and 30 percent by 2050.

The main driver of the petrochemical industry’s growing climate footprint, according to the report, will be plastics. Worldwide, roughly 300 million metric tons of plastic are produced each year.

Plastic has become an inextricable part of modern life over the past fifty to sixty years, and some environmental groups — particularly those concerned with pollution in the oceans — have started campaigns to reduce the use of products like plastic straws, shopping bags and water bottles.

While it may be easy to switch from bottled water to a refillable container, other plastics are not so easy to replace. In hospitals, for example, IV drips that were once made of glass are now made of plastic because it is cheaper and plastics are less likely to shatter.

Petrochemicals are also a fundamental part of the pharmaceutical industry.

The predicted increase in petrochemicals will also be driven by an increase in fertilizer use, the result of population growth along with a growing global economy. As developing countries, especially those with larger populations, increase their wealth, they will quite likely increase the use of fertilizer, much of which is produced from natural gas.

The report estimates that by 2030, roughly seven percent of increased demand in natural gas will come from petrochemical companies.

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