Stopping Plastic Pollution

Plastics are a pollutant of unique concern, as they do not break down quickly and accumulate in the environment as more is produced. They carry toxic impacts throughout their lifecycle — from the impacts of drilling at the wellhead, to the release of pollutants at plastic production plants affecting fenceline communities, to the plastic waste that litters our oceans and harms marine life and human health.

Yet just as the world begins to realize the dangers of plastic pollution and take action to prevent it, industry is poised to invest billions in expanding plastics production.

In as little as five years, these investments could increase global plastics production capacity by a third, driving companies to produce ever greater volumes of plastic for years to come. If this plastic is produced, companies will find markets to consume it. Production will drive demand. This wave of investment increases pollution risks to frontline communities throughout the plastics supply chain and directly undermines efforts by cities, countries, and the global community to combat the growing plastics crisis.

The problem of plastic pollution in the ocean has been known since the 1950s, shortly after the introduction of oil-based plastics in consumer goods. Evidence suggests that the plastics industry followed a similar playbook to Big Oil: Even though they knew (or should have known) of the risks of their products no later than the 1970s, they denied these risks and fought regulation of their products.

CIEL works to expose the linkages between the fossil fuel and plastic industries and to advocate for real solutions to the plastics crisis that address the entire lifecycle — from production to waste. Our ongoing Fueling Plastics series addresses these questions, providing valuable research to activists and regulators alike.

At the third session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) in December 2017, countries joined together to pass a resolution on marine litter and microplastics. CIEL is working with a coalition of partners to advocate for a binding treaty to address the plastics crisis on a global scale, from wellhead extraction to ocean pollution.

Last updated February 2018