Plastic

Column / Harder Line

Oil companies double down on plastics as public outcry grows

Illustration of plastic bag coming out of a gas pump
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The oil and gas industry is ramping up petrochemicals — building blocks of plastics —right as the global outcry intensifies over plastic waste.

The big picture: Most people associate oil companies' products mainly with gasoline. But they also generate plastics that are interwoven into all facets of our lives. This durable material is, more and more, leaving waste virtually everywhere on Earth.

Chart: How much plastic the world has produced since 1950

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

Plastics are increasingly hardwired into the global economy, from shipping to building to computing.

Key stat: In 65 years, we've gone from producing very little plastic to more than 400 million metric tons in 2015.

Go deeper: The global plastic problem is even bigger than you think