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Ross McCracken

Ross McCracken

Ross is an energy analyst, writer and consultant who was previously the Managing Editor of Platts Energy Economist

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The True Complexity Of Plastic Pollution

Refinery

While the number of plastics regulations is proliferating globally, how to deal with the problem of plastic pollution is complex, particularly when viewed through the prism of climate change and carbon accounting.

Plastics sequester both carbon and energy. While the period of carbon sequestration is negligible when it comes to single-use plastics, some plastics, for example in the built environment, represent long-term carbon sequestration, often with significant energy conservation attributes.

The lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to emissions savings for heat and power is simply to use less. Three of the cheapest means of household energy savings are roof insulation, wall cavity insulation and UVPC double glazing. The most economical materials in all three areas are petrochemicals based.

Even for single-use plastics, there are emissions benefits. Plastic-wrapped foods reduce waste, which in effect reduces the oil intensity of food production because more produce is delivered for the same upstream inputs, for example fertilizer or the diesel used in agricultural machinery.

Plastic wrapping is also integral to the concept of ‘light weighting’. Light plastic packaging, which includes plastic bottles, has to be set against the increased weight of the alternatives, and the emissions created in their production and recycling. The replacement of plastic bottles with glass increases both product weight and size, which in turn raises transportation…

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