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Expand chart
Adapted from Geyer et al., 2017, "Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made," Science Advances; Chart: Axios Visuals

Several new or recent reports highlight the damage from massive global plastics consumption and the challenge of tackling the problem. The chart above shows a stunning statistic highlighted in a recent report: Global plastics production grew to over 400 million tons in 2015.

Why it matters: Plastic bags, bottles and many other wastes are causing widespread harm to marine and coastal ecosystems and as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report reminded us, the problem is getting worse.

They kill massive numbers of marine animals (including 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals annually in one widely cited estimate), degrade their environment, and enter the food chain.

Fresh evidence of the environmental problem . . .

  • A recent study in Marine Policy that uses a major dataset on ocean debris showed that a plastic bag was located nearly seven miles below the surface in the Mariana Trench, underscoring the breadth of marine pollution.
  • A major collection of stories and stunning photos in the latest edition of National Geographic has brought fresh attention to the topic.
  • The May 24 OECD report explores ways to boost recycling and barriers to adoption. It cites data showing that worldwide, just 14%–18% of waste plastics is recycled, 24% is thermally treated, and the rest is disposed of in landfills, open burning, or gets into the environment via "uncontrolled dumping" and other means.

Why it matters for energy: Plastics are a major source of oil demand. They currently account for around 4%–8% of worldwide oil and gas consumption, per the OECD.

Petrochemical production more broadly is one reason why global oil consumption may not peak for decades, even as greater vehicle efficiency and electrification bring a peak in oil demand for transportation closer to reality.

The oil demand equation: tougher curbs on plastics could have the spillover effect of altering global oil demand levels.

BP's chief economist said in February that various policies, such as stringent restrictions on plastic bags, could shave 2 million barrels per day from global oil demand by 2040, according to multiple reports.

One staggering factoid: "By mid-century, it is estimated that the ocean could have more plastic than fish by weight," the OECD notes. A new video on their report is here.

And their report assesses a large number of policy options to bolster recycling — such as statutory targets, so-called extended producer responsibility rules, procurement policies that boost demand for recycled content, and stronger policing of illegal dumping — and barriers to their adoption

Go deeper: Scientists grapple with the world's plastic problem

Go deeper

Prosecutor: Fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. was "justified"

Khalil Ferebee (C), the son of Andrew Brown Jr., and attorneys Bakari Sellers (L) and Harry Daniel (R) at a May 11 news conference in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

A North Carolina prosecutor said Tuesday that the death of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man fatally shot by sheriff's deputies last month, was "tragic" but "justified," due to the immediate threat officers believed Brown posed.

Why it matters: The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into Brown's death. Police in Elizabeth City shot him five times, including in the back of his head, according to an independent autopsy report released by family attorneys last month.

McCarthy comes out against bipartisan deal on Jan. 6 commission

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will oppose a bipartisan deal announced last week that would form a 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, his office announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: McCarthy's opposition to the deal, which was negotiated by the top Republican and Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, underscores the internal divisions that continue to plague the GOP in the wake of Jan. 6.

2 hours ago - World

Beijing's antitrust push poses a problem for Western regulators

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Chinese government's anti-monopoly machinery presents a major challenge to U.S. and European regulators, a new book argues.

Why it matters: China's huge markets are attracting investment from multinational corporations and shaping the behavior of its own globe-trotting companies — giving international heft to the country's idiosyncratic antitrust enforcement and putting it on a collision course with Western-style regulation.