Study finds surge in oil and gas use to make polymers | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Study finds surge in oil and gas use to make polymers

ByJayashree Nandi
Apr 18, 2024 08:10 AM IST

The global report also highlighted that India, Russia, United States of America, China in certain cases, are not agreeable to reducing primary plastic polymer production

New Delhi: Ahead of the 4th session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution to be held later this month in Canada, a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) report flagged that companies have started increasing oil and gas production for polymers, in anticipation of a serious response to climate change that could curb the production of fossil fuels.

China is the largest plastic producer followed by rest of Asia and North America while the US is the largest producer of oil followed by Saudi Arabia; Russia and Canada (HT)
China is the largest plastic producer followed by rest of Asia and North America while the US is the largest producer of oil followed by Saudi Arabia; Russia and Canada (HT)

The global report titled “Global Plastic Treaty Negotiations” also highlighted that India, Russia, United States of America, China in certain cases, are not agreeable to reducing primary plastic polymer production; reducing chemicals from polymer production; or phasing out single use plastic. This is based on analysis by CSE researchers of submissions made by countries during negotiations.

China is the largest plastic producer followed by rest of Asia and North America while the US is the largest producer of oil followed by Saudi Arabia; Russia and Canada.

India has a progressive stance on the use of alternative plastics; use of recycled plastic content; product design and performance focused on increasing reusability, repairability and recyclability. But, it has made it clear that all measures will be nationally driven, taking international standards into account, the report pointed out. The INC-3 meeting took place from November 13 to 19 last year at United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya. The Nairobi negotiations culminated in an agreement on a revised zero draft being made available to all negotiators for negotiation this year.

The fourth session of INC (23 to 29 April 2024 ) will highlight the importance of refining the draft text on plastic pollution. The goal will be to identify areas of agreement and address remaining differences through textual negotiations, focusing on both substance and structure of the proposed instrument. Various alternative draft proposals will be consolidated into a streamlined and cohesive document that can be finalized in legal terms by the fifth session, CSE said in its report.

The revised zero draft document is expected to get more complicated in an effort to express the views of all member states.

The CSE report has also highlighted that leading state-owned and private crude oil and gas producers have been increasing the output of primary (virgin) plastics in anticipation that a serious global response to climate change might reduce demand . According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), up to 99% of plastics are made from polymers derived from non-renewable hydrocarbons (crude oil and natural gas). Polymers, commonly known as plastics, are larger units of smaller molecules (monomers) that are joined together by chemical bonds.

“Although plastic is often seen as a separate issue from climate change, its production, use, distribution and disposal are major sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Together, these processes contributed about 1.8 million metric tonnes (MMT) or approximately 3.4 per cent of global GHG emissions in 2019. Plastic production alone accounted for 90% of these emissions,” the report said.

Petrochemicals, the category that includes plastic, now account for 14% of total crude oil use, and are expected to drive half of the growth in oil demand between now and 2050, CSE has projected based on United Nations and other data.

Annual plastic production has doubled in the last 20 years—from 234 MMT in 2000 to 460 MMT in 2019. Under a business-as-usual scenario, annual production is set to triple and reach 1,261 MMT by 2060. At 238 kg per capita per year, Organisation for Economic Cooperation (OECD) countries currently have the highest per capita consumption of plastics. They are also projected to remain the largest per capita consumers of plastics in 2060.

Nearly all of the world’s plastic is manufactured from naphtha, a by-product of petroleum refining.

“We should address the full life cycle of plastics and not have a myopic view of seeing plastics as a litter or waste problem alone,” said Atin Biswas, Programme Director, Municipal Solid Waste, CSE said during the launch of the report on Wednesday.

HT sought union environment ministry’s response on why India is agreeable only to downstream measures focusing on waste management (including collection, sorting and transportation), recycling/ processing, and disposal methods but not reducing polymer production. MoEFCC did not respond immediately.

“Estimates suggest that about 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic produced from 1950-2017 became plastic waste, ending up in landfills or dumped. While that is a problem in itself it is only part of a wider and more serious issue. ..India was quick to realise that the problem needed redressal. India embarked on the journey to beat plastic pollution five years ago after Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a call for elimination of single-use plastics from the country by the year 2022. India took a defining step to curb pollution caused by littered and unmanaged plastic waste on July 1, 2022, when the ban was imposed on manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of identified single-use plastic items, which have low utility and high littering potential, all across the country,” Bhupender Yadav, union environment minister wrote on June 30, 2023 in HT.

“Just like we have a net zero emissions target for climate change, we need a science based target like net zero carbon plastics to address this issue,” said S Sivaram, Hon professor Emeritus, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune.

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