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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

Go deeper

41 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Group of 20 bipartisan senators back $1.2T infrastructure framework

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) arrives for a meeting with Senate Budget Committee Democrats in the Mansfield Room at the U.S. Capitol building on June 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Majority Leader and Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee are meeting to discuss how to move forward with the Biden Administrations budget proposal. Photo: Samuel Corum / Getty Images

A group of 10 Democratic and 10 Republican senators (the "G20") tasked with negotiating an infrastructure deal with the White House has released a statement in support of a $1.2 trillion framework.

Why it matters: Details regarding the plan have not yet been released, but getting 10 Republicans on board means the bill could get the necessary 60 votes to pass.

DOJ drops criminal probe, civil lawsuit against John Bolton over Trump book

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Justice Department has closed its criminal investigation into whether President Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton disclosed classified information with his tell-all memoir, “The Room Where it Happened," according to a source with direct knowledge.

Why it matters: The move comes a year after the Trump administration tried to silence Bolton by suing him in federal court, claiming he breached his contract by failing to complete a pre-publication review for classified information. Prosecutors indicated they had reached a settlement with Bolton to drop the lawsuit in a filing on Wednesday.

Fed may raise rates sooner, as inflation is higher than expected

Feb chair Jerome Powell. Photo: Susan Walsh/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve kept rates unchanged at its latest policy meeting, but a shift in sentiment emerged as to how soon it should begin raising rates.

Why it matters: The Fed's rock-bottom rates policy and monthly asset purchases helped the U.S. markets avoid a meltdown during the COVID-19 crisis last year. But as the economy recovers, a chorus is growing for the Fed to at least consider a timeline for pulling back its support before things get overheated.