EcoRubric 11:37 07 Oct 2022

Buy plastic from EU — finance war in Ukraine: why production and use of plastic helps russia

Why should the EU cut down on plastic production right now, and why NOT buying plastic won't help? We provide an effective solution.

What is the problem?

For every action of the maddened president of a neighboring country, the EU and the world community introduce new and new sanctions packages. One of the strongest blows to the economy of the aggressor country should be the rejection of russian gas, and European countries have already begun to initiate these processes.

The need for rejection has driven up the price of blue fuel. Another recent event added fuel to the fire: the North Stream accident, shrouded in much speculation but one that shut down the pipeline indefinitely.

Despite the lack of gas, the companies most dependent on oil and gas continue to operate

And although there are narratives in the media that Europe will be seriously affected by the gas crisis, which unfolds just before the start of the heating season, there is still enough russian gas there. For example, according to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, as of August 31, EU gas storage facilities were 80% full.

In addition, the countries are launching state subsidy programs for gas consumers, not only for the population but also for industry. Germany reduces the value added tax on gas consumption from 19% to 7%, namely consumption by the population, and therefore the financing of russia is reduced by introducing additional restrictions. For example, Germany refuses to illuminate historical buildings, billboards, etc., at night and reduce the air conditioning temperature. This led to the fact that in August, the country managed to reduce gas consumption by 25%.

40% of the energy obtained from oil and gas goes to the production of plastic packaging 

So what's the problem? Despite everything, a large share of gas consumption is not the population and heating of domestic premises but industry. A new report by Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), "Winter is Coming: Plastic Must Go," claims that plastics and petrochemicals are the biggest industrial consumers of oil, gas, and electricity in the EU:

"Almost 40% of this energy goes to the production of plastic packaging alone. Not including this sector in the "Save Gas for a Safer Winter" plan is a serious oversight. While families and small businesses face a sharp rise in electricity bills, the petrochemical industry spends limited resources on producing unnecessary single-use plastic. It contributes to the EU energy crisis," says Delphine Lévi-Alvarès, European coordinator of the international movement "Break Free From Plastic."

Here are some interesting facts from the study. Did you know that…

    • Plastic production is almost 9% of final fossil gas consumption and 8% of final EU oil consumption in 2020. This is about the same as the Netherlands uses in a year.
    • Plastic production is the most energy- and raw material-intensive process in the petrochemical industry. The production of plastic packaging accounts for 40% of the oil spent on the production of plastic products in general. At the same time, this is approximately the same amount of oil as is consumed in a year in Sweden and Denmark together (according to 2020 data)
    • Together, Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland account for 75% of oil and 81% of final gas consumption, and 77% of all plastic packaging waste in the EU.

All this confirms that even with the reduction in the use of gas and oil by consumers, the introduction of new restrictions, such as turning off the lighting of billboards at night, the insane amount of gas and oil is consumed by industrial enterprises that manufacture plastic packaging.

Plastic production in the EU = financing russia's war against Ukraine 

In 2020, 38% of gas and 22% of oil in the EU came from russia. It is impossible to give up russian gas quickly. Still, according to Anastasia Martynenko, head of the NGO Zero Waste Society in Ukraine, the use of russian gas by plastic manufacturers means their support for the war in Ukraine:

"Dependence on unnecessary plastic is financing russia's war against Ukraine. Until decision-makers in the EU and Ukraine adopt ambitious legislation to reduce plastic production with clear targets, and businesses implement it, they are helping the war machine and all existing or future conflicts fueled by dependence on individual countries' resources,"  Ms. Martynenko comments.

What is the solution?

Known solutions

як пластик з ЄС фінансує війну

The first logical thing to think about is to abandon the use of plastic packaging:

  • Not to use plastic dishes, replacing them with reusable ones
  • Take coffee "to go" in your own reusable cup, not in a paper cup (the material itself also contains plastic, and don't forget the plastic lids)
  • When buying ready-made food in supermarkets, take it in your own containers.
  • Instead of cling film, use special reusable soaked napkins.
  • When buying products in plastic containers, choose a larger package – so instead of two or three used containers, there will be one.
  • In some European stores, shampoo, liquid soap, liquid detergents, etc., are sold on tap — buy them by filling your own container.
  • When leaving home for the office, for a walk, or exercise, take water with you in a reusable bottle instead of buying it.

In this way, you will reduce the demand for goods and, further, your personal responsibility for sponsoring russian aggression. But…

Will it definitely work?

It will work, but not for sure

Big companies have a big responsibility. The Climate Accountability Institute's 2019 research concluded that 35% of all carbon dioxide and methane emissions worldwide, which is 480 billion tons of CO2 equivalent in various gases, were released into the air by just 20 large global companies. All these are corporations engaged in gas and oil production.

як пластик з ЄС фінансує війну

Top 20 companies by CO2 equivalent emissions from 1965 to today according to the Climate Accountability Institute. The source is at the link.

The same applies to the companies mentioned at the beginning of the article — those that manufacture plastic packaging harmful to our environment, using fossil fuels from russia. According to Lily Fuhr, Deputy Director of CIEL's Climate and Energy Programme, "homegrown" solutions at the household level to reduce plastic use may not work, and producers, not consumers, should be responsible:

"russia's invasion of Ukraine exposes the dangers of our global dependence on fossil fuels. Expecting individual consumer actions is an inadequate and disproportionate response to the scale and intensity of the current crisis," she notes.

Big problems need big solutions 

That is why the research suggests another solution: confront the problem directly and immediately reduce plastic production, starting with unnecessary single-use plastic packaging to save gas.

The report details specific policy recommendations for the EU to reduce fossil fuel use for petrochemicals and plastics through ambitious prevention and reuse policies. Here's what they consist of:

  • If you cut production by 50% and start recycling 90% of plastic packaging, you can reduce the equivalent of the Czech Republic's annual oil and gas consumption.
  • Annual plastic production must be reduced from 50 to 29 megatons (Mt) by at least 2030
  • The EU and its member states must stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure, including petrochemicals, starting with a moratorium or freeze on permits for new virgin plastics.

"This is a huge opportunity for the EU to solve the energy, climate, and plastic pollution crises simultaneously," said Lévi-Alvarès. "It is time for the EU to demonstrate real leadership. To make winter safer, plastic must go."

And what can I do?

  • You can also influence the decisions of government officials by signing a petition on the Action Network. It is an open platform that enables individuals and groups to organize for progressive causes. On the platform, you can find global initiatives, including those about preventing the use and production of plastic. For example, there is such an initiative.
  • A similar petition is also proposed by the global environmental protection organization Greenpeace. The petition can be found here.
  • Suppose you are a member or leader of a non-governmental organization for environmental protection and want to fight plastic pollution. In that case, you can register your initiative here and join the Global Plastics Treaty global movement.

Join and support the work of Ukrainian public organizations working to solve the plastic crisis, including Zero Waste Society, Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine, and others.


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