A lifeline for the fossil fuel industry?


In the century since its revolutionary invention, plastic has become a pollution nightmare. Much is designed to be used just once. And much is. Yet billions are being invested in making more.


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The fossil fuel industry is facing an existential threat. 

Climate catastrophe

Its survival is diametrically opposed to that of the environment, which depends on global commitments to keep oil, gas and coal in the ground to avoid climate catastrophe.

Though the science has long been clear, it's only more recently that governments and industry have started to act.

Countries around the world, including major economies like the US, the EU and China, are introducing increasingly ambitious clean energy targets. The electric vehicle market is picking up pace and 2020 was a record-breaking year for renewables.

Yet the fossil fuel sector is not about to turn its back on hydrocarbons. It has seen a beacon of hope in plastics, an industry to which it already has deep connections.


Many oil and gas giants in the trillion-dollar industry are instead betting on items of single-use plastic, such as this seemingly innocuous shampoo sachet.

It, like the hundreds of billions of other sachets produced annually, begins life among the masses of ancient, organic material lying beneath the ground and seabed.

Extracted crude oil

Extracted crude oil and natural gas provide the raw material for around 99% of all plastics. That makes it a lifeline for the fossil fuel industry.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts petrochemicals will drive nearly half of oil demand growth between now and 2050. And some estimates say plastic production could almost quadruple by then.

Petrochemical industry

That implies big business for the petrochemical industry.

Petrochemical plants produce the building blocks for a range of products including fertilizers, digital devices, tires — and plastics.

And it is in these facilities that our sachet begins to take shape.

refined oil and gas