petrochemicals plant in Europe

Big Oil’s Plan B: Plastic

What is Big Oil’s Plan B?

Public alarm about single-use plastics and awareness about the damaging effects of plastic pollution has never been higher. But in the last few years, fossil fuel and petrochemical businesses have been pouring billions of dollars into new plants intended to make millions more tonnes of plastic than they now pump out. These industries have found a way to monetise the possibility that a global response to climate change might reduce demand for fossil fuels: their plan B is plastic.

What is the problem with plastic and petrochemicals?

Petrochemicals, the category of oil refining that includes plastic, now account for 14% of oil use, and are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050. The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will double in the next 20 years.

Plastics and petrochemical production threaten our climate, oceans, wildlife and human health. The processes to make them releases toxins that cause cancer and a range of other severe illnesses. As with many social problems, the poorest and most vulnerable people are often worst affected by this environmental disaster.

Governments have allowed producers to push the costs of plastics clean-up onto taxpayers, as local councils and health services pick up the tab. But ClientEarth’s lawyers are dedicated to using the law to protect people and the planet – and are fighting back.

What is ClientEarth doing to protect you and the planet?

We use the law to protect your health and our shared planet from dangerous petrochemicals. We need to force real action from the fossil fuel businesses refusing to face up to the realities of climate change. We want to reduce the production of unnecessary plastics worldwide, increase the safe recycling of plastics, and step up scrutiny of petrochemical plants – starting with Ineos’s new project in Antwerp.

Who is Ineos?

Ineos is one of the world’s largest petrochemical producers – it’s owned by one of the UK’s richest people, Sir Jim Ratcliffe. The company is gearing up to build a €3bn plastics plant in the Port of Antwerp, wedged between The Netherlands and Belgium. This will cause a spectrum of bad environmental news, the bare minimum of which has been addressed by Ineos.

As it stands, lentil-sized plastic pellets, which is what these plants manufacture, are leaking into protected conservation sites from Ineos’s existing plants in the port, and can be eaten by wildlife. What’s more, the air pollution issues caused by the plant’s high stacks currently go unchecked. And these are just the local problems – the broader issue is the climate impact of a plastics industry that the fossil fuel industry is fighting to grow.

This is something Ineos is not acknowledging in its reports to local planning authorities.

Our first win in the fight against Ineos

ClientEarth has taken early action against this planned plant and we’ve got some good news for you – read more on the first win in our plastics fight. 

What else is ClientEarth working on?

Plastic production and pollution is also a business risk – though many companies don’t acknowledge it. Regulation is tightening and single-use plastics are being banned all over the world. The future Big Oil is seeking in plastic may be a short-lived one – and refineries like these might end up as stranded assets. Then these companies will have their shareholders to answer to – and potentially some steep liability risk.

How can you help?

We need the support of people like you to make sure strong laws are enforced to protect our environment, now and in the future. When you sign up to ClientEarth, we’ll add you to our newsletter and keep you up to date with our campaigns, activities and ways you can support our work.

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