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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

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers remarks at the 2021 Tribal Nations Summit at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Nov. 15, 2021. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and "again.. diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

1 hour ago - World

Biden to warn Putin U.S. will add troops in Eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

Putin meets Biden in Geneva. Photo: Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty

President Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin when they speak on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. is prepared to increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank," a senior administration official told reporters.

Why it matters: The administration believes it's increasingly likely that Putin will order an invasion.

2 hours ago - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.