Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Two of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers — BP and Shell — are getting into the recycling business as they ramp up operations to make plastics.

Why it matters: Most people associate oil companies with gasoline. But they also generate the building blocks of plastics that are interwoven into our lives. The durable material is littering the planet given lackluster recycling rates.

Driving the news: Over the past month, two notable developments have occurred:

  • Shell announced Thursday what it called a “breakthrough” with hard-to-recycle plastics — like takeout food containers and laundry detergent bottles. The oil producer said it made chemicals using raw material, or feedstock, manufactured from that kind of plastic waste, processed by another company, Atlanta-based Nexus Fuels LLC.
  • BP plans to build a pilot plant to test new technology the company says allows single-use plastics, like plastic bottles, to be recycled over and over again, Reuters reported last month.

The big picture: The oil industry is eyeing growth in petrochemicals — the plastic building blocks — to offset anticipated lower oil demand elsewhere, particularly transportation as electric cars become more common in a world that is increasingly tackling climate change.

One level deeper: Shell also announced a new goal to use 1 million tonnes of plastic waste a year in its global chemical plants over the next five years.

  • That’s about 6%–7% of the entire amount of raw material the company uses each year, according to Thomas Casparie, executive vice president for chemicals at Shell.
    • (One tonne = roughly 1.1 U.S. ton.)

The other side: Environmentalists say oil companies betting on this type of recycling, known as chemical since it changes the chemical makeup of the material, will justify ever-more investments in petrochemical plants and other operations with big impacts on climate change, according to Steven Feit an attorney with the nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law.

Go deeper: Oil companies double down on plastics as public outcry grows

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U.S. economy sees record growth in third quarter

Shoppers carrying Forever 21 bags in Times Square. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

The U.S. economy grew at a 33.1% annualized pace in the third quarter, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.

The state of play: The record growth follows easing of the coronavirus-driven lockdowns that pushed the economy to the worst-ever contraction — but GDP still remains well below its pre-pandemic level.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
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Investors have nowhere to hide

Photo: Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

The massive losses in oil prices and U.S. and European equities were not countered by gains in traditional safe-haven assets on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The unusual movement in typical hedging tools like bonds, precious metals and currencies means they are not providing investors an asset that will appreciate in the event of a major equity selloff.

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
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A look inside sports owners' political donations

Data: ESPN/FiveThirtyEight; Chart: Axios Visuals

Sports team owners in the four largest North American leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) have donated over $46 million in federal elections since 2015, according to research conducted by ESPN and FiveThirtyEight.

By the numbers: Over the past three elections, $35.7 million of that money (77.4%) has gone to Republican campaigns and super PACs, compared to $10.4 million (22.6%) to Democrats.