President-elect Joe Biden has promised to decarbonize the U.S. electricity grid by 2035 and implement a host of other climate policies, which in theory would discourage fossil fuel companies from extracting more oil and gas. But instead, it could just push them to find other uses for their products: Specifically, plastic—unless his administration comes up with a plan to stop them from doing so.
The industry is already banking on plastic to save itself amid decreasing fuel demand and an increase in sustainable energy policies around the world. According to the International Energy Agency, plastic and other petrochemicals currently account for 14% of global oil use. But if growth trends continue, they’re expected to drive half of the world’s oil demand growth by 2050.
Left unchecked, all that plastic will pose huge challenges for the planet, polluting the oceans and wreaking havoc on public health with toxic emissions from production plants and the incinerators and landfills used to dispose of it, all of which are often constructed in poor communities of color. It will also exacerbate the climate crisis: Conservative predictions show that plastic production and incineration will produce 300 coal plants-worth of greenhouses gases by 2030 and that by 2050, that pollution output could double.