|Chicken made from recycled plastic bags|
Photo by nuanc CC /by-nc-nd/2.0/
Yeah, that’s the ticket. They lay all these plastic pellets, see. Then they scoop them up with their beaks and …
Where does plastic come from, really?
Look around. Right now, where you’re sitting, how many objects can you touch that are made of plastic or have plastic parts? The computer I’m typing on has plenty, eighty-six pieces in the keyboard alone. Within my vision are two plastic bags, a plastic bottle, a fashionable black space heater made of plastic and metal, another computer, its matching monitor and paraphernalia, and plenty more. This in a home filled with books, wooden toys and furniture of “natural” materials, organic linens and throws. Not for us the sleek black and chrome interior.
But plastic. Even the desk chair on which I sit has more plastic than not. The upholstery itself is a poly fiber blend. It’s difficult to imagine life without the versatile stuff. So I’ve been wondering, inquiring soul that I am, how much of the crude petroleum we drill and import each year is used to manufacture all our plastic gizmos and whatsits?
The US Energy Administration has the answer
Turns out it’s an easy question to answer on one hand, not so easy on the other. The U.S. Energy Administration (EIA) has some data for us, but it’s a little difficult to get a bead on the truth. Take a look.
- In 2008, the United States consumed a total of 7.14 billion barrels of oil (refined petroleum products and biofuels), which was about 23% of total world oil consumption. Note the word “refined.” How many barrels of crude oil did we consume? And let’s not even touch that other statistic: Twenty-three percent of world oil consumption is, guzzle, guzzle, glub, glub, mine. And yours. Ours.
- In 2006, about 331 million barrels of liquid petroleum gases (LPG) and natural gas liquids (NGL) were used to make plastic products in the plastic materials and resins industry in the United States, equal to about 4.6% of total U.S. petroleum consumption. Of the total, 329 million barrels were used as feedstock and 2 million barrels were consumed as fuel. Note the year for total barrels consumed (2008) and the year for number of barrels used to make plastic (2006) differ, but that 4.6 percent is an exact factor of the two. Wha??? They’re deriving a percentage from stats in two different years?Coincidence? Maybe. Who can tell?
- EIA does not have similar data for other countries, and does not have data on the quantity of plastics materials and resins produced in the United States and in other countries or data on the origin of all the plastic products used in the United States. This last is the most troubling. We don’t know where all the plastic products in the United States come from, let alone how much oil was used to produce them.
Do you know where your plastic came from?
|And where is it going when you’re through with it? |
Image by jschneid CC by-nc/2.0
“Made in China.” That’s what I see on the bottom of almost every item I pick up these days. It is difficult to find US-made products, even when we’re looking for them, which begs the question: How much petroleum world-wide is used to make all the plastic gadgets, clothing, containers, bottle caps, can liners, disposable diapers, hair clips, toys, holiday trinkets and doodads (Big orange Halloween pumpkin, anyone?), pens, desk accessories, CD/DVD cases, Crocs, balloons, condoms, telephones, and almost anything else we Americans buy day after day all year long?
Worldwide, we consume approximately 100 million tons of plastic a year. According to WasteOnline, “Plastic production uses 8% of the world's oil production, 4% as feedstock and 4% during manufacture.” That’s 95 million more tons per year than we consumed sixty years ago, by the way.
What do you think? How many of the plastic bits within your vision were made in the United States, part of that 4.6 percent of our total petroleum consumption? Have you purchased anything lately labeled “Made in the USA”? (Celebrate! You helped an American keep her job!) How many bits were produced overseas using the petroleum resources of those countries? The big question remains: Where is all that plastic we gobble up and spit out coming from and how much oil does it take to make it?