Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Fairfield & Southern Litchfield Counties

Plastic is the New Coal

Graphic of hands holding globe


A new report from the advocacy group Beyond Plastics has found that emissions from the plastic industry may be greater than those from coal-fired power plants by 2029. Founder Judith Enck, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, says, “Plastic is intimately connected to the climate crisis. Plastic is the new coal.” The report details ways plastic contributes to global warming, beginning with its manufacture as petroleum products. Some of the issues are related to fracking, pipelines, toxic chemical byproducts, carcinogenic smoke, atmospheric hydrofluorocarbons and waste disposal on land and sea.

The Beyond Plastics report estimates that U.S. production of plastic in 2020 caused about 210 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or the equivalent of 116 medium-sized, coal-fired power plants. Aarthi Ananthanarayanan, senior fellow at the Ocean Conservancy Plastics Initiative, says the report highlights the need for policymakers to better regulate petrochemical producers, saying, “We have to start considering plastics as part of the fossil fuel industry.”