Oil companies are risking some $400 billion in stranded assets with their focus on petrochemicals production growth that relies on strong growth in demand for plastics, Carbon Tracker has said in a new report.

“The oil industry is pinning its hopes on strong plastics demand growth that will not materialise, as the world starts to tackle plastic waste and governments act to hit climate targets,” the organization said.

Big Oil companies are banking on demand for plastics replacing much of the demand for oil from the transport sector as EVs displace internal combustion engines. But Carbon Tracker’s The Future’s Not in Plastics report suggests that growth in plastics demand will actually be much weaker than Big Oil needs because of an expected shift “from a linear plastic system to a circular one and governments act to hit climate targets.”

If this proves true, it will make for terrible news for the oil industry. While the major displacement of oil demand in the transport sector has yet to materialize as EV penetration has been slower than major projections estimated, the crusade against plastics has begun and will only intensify in the coming years. This would mean more initiatives for banning single-use plastics and more regulation in place for plastics recycling. Without regulation, the crusade will fail.

According to Carbon Tracker, however, it will win, not least because of problems inherent in the plastics industry.

“Plastics impose a massive untaxed externality upon society which this report estimates is about $1,000 per tonne ($350bn a year) from carbon dioxide, health costs, collection costs, and ocean pollution,” the report’s authors wrote, adding that these can be mitigated through recycling, replacing with alternative materials, and improving the design and regulation.

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If demand for plastics falls, then some 80 million tons of new plastics production capacity worth $400 billion will be stranded, the report warns.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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