The disposal of plastic waste makes a significant impact on the global problems of pollution and climate change. According to experts, one of the plastic industry's biggest problems is recycled carbon fuels, which are marketed as an environmental solution in a trend known as greenwashing.
The European Union Parliament voted for 60% of carbon emissions to be cut by 2030, one step closer to attaining carbon neutrality by 2050. A recent policy briefing by Zero Waste Europe reports the issue of "recycled carbon fuels." These fuels are the result of converting plastics back into their fossil form. However, burning plastics release additional carbon into the atmosphere and worsen global warming.
Janek Vähk from Zero Waste Europe said that labeling plastic fuel as low carbon is a "stepping stone to greenwash CO2 coming from fossil oil and gas." Therefore, there need to be new guidelines for the full life cycle of fossil fuels made into plastics, which are then burned back into fossil form. "The fossil carbon embedded within plastics needs to be traced from the extraction of the fossil carbon to its emission into the atmosphere," said Vähk.
Fossil Plastic Fuel
Plastic fuel is a refined form of fossil oil and gas, explained Ana Šerdoner from Bellona Foundation, a non-profit organization that addresses climate change and develops sustainable solutions. Fossil fuels burned for energy "are not even close to being low-carbon." she said.
Moreover, fuel production results in environmental pollutants. Fossil plastic fuels have no place in the overall carbon neutrality efforts, said Šerdoner. Their "sustainability" will be determined by the Renewable Energy Directive, the comprehensive policy for energy from renewable sources.
From Sealed Air, a packaging company, Steve Garland said that multiple technology platforms are needed to solve plastic waste. Corporations should collaborate to expand the various ways that plastic can be recycled. Sealed Air recently partnered with Plastic Energy for their packaging to be made with chemically recycled plastic.
What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing, a term from environmentalist Jay Weserveld in the 1980s, describes brands' marketing strategy, claiming they have sustainability practices. Company resources are spent on advertising their eco-friendly methods rather than minimizing their carbon footprints.
For example, an industry may broadcast its dedication to the environment via media but dump industrial waste in oceans. Another example is California's state law that bans plastics with "biodegradable" or "compostable" labels without information on how fast the product will biodegrade.
Deandra Jefferson, from a sustainability organization, shared that greenwashing is for a corporation's best interest. Corporations rarely live up to the social responsibilities they claim; "it's a surface-level effort to make themselves look good."
"It's easy for industries to announce support for net-zero climate goals when they simultaneously attempt to dismantle basic accounting of the climate-damaging emissions their products cause," Šerdoner said. "These greenwashing attempts must be filtered out if we are to achieve the climate neutrality objectives set out by the EU Climate Law."
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