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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

Schumer: Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

Why it matters: Trump is the only president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. The House voted to impeach the former president on Jan. 13 on a single charge: incitement of insurrection for the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in five deaths.

1 hour ago - Health

CDC extends interval between COVID vaccine doses for exceptional cases

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.

Texas AG sues Biden administration over deportation freeze

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to members of the media in 2016. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Biden administration in federal district court over its 100-day freeze on deporting unauthorized immigrants, and he's asking for a temporary restraining order.

Between the lines: The freeze went into effect Friday, temporarily halting most immigration enforcement in the U.S. In the lawsuit, Paxton claims the move "violates the U.S. Constitution, federal immigration and administrative law, and a contractual agreement between Texas" and the Department of Homeland Security.