A couple of weeks ago, I watched the BBC’s programme “War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita, Series 1, Episode 3” and was shocked by many things, but none more than the fact that the UK is shipping in US gas (from US fracking) so that we can make more and more plastics in the UK. I didn’t realise there was such a strong link with the plastic we use every day and shale gas. Now I feel quite sad, and I wonder if people are aware of the connection between plastic and shale gas.

US Gas from fracking in the UK!

Firstly I’m shocked that US gas from the fracking of their own land is being shipped to the UK. Even as the Scottish government is strongly debating whether to implement a complete ban on fracking in the country, they are allowing gas fracked in the US to come into Scotland. The UK has areas like the North Sea and the Norwegian Continental Shelf right near by, so why don’t we take advantage of that? I’m sure it’s all because it’s cheaper, but cheap is not always good (see – Is “cheap” the right direction?). Cheap means somebody is making more profit out of it, but doesn’t mean that the value of humans and the value of the environment are being adequately taken into account.

INEOS is the company that was highlighted in the programme on BBC, and they seem to be proud of bringing in US gas to their Grangemouth facility in Scotland. In the links and quotes at the bottom of this article, you’ll quickly get the impression that the owners of the company are making big profits out of plastic and shale gas and they’ve convinced the government to keep their hands off by talking about preserving jobs and supplying UK manufacturing.

INEOS Grangemouth facility - plastic and shale gas

We’re turning US gas into huge amounts of plastic!

Even worse than shipping fracked gas from the US to Scotland, we are using this gas to create huge amounts of plastic! We know that plastic is a blight on the world that we might not be able to repair, but we’re still making huge amounts of it. Are we crazy? (I’d say yes!)

When I look at the various webpages that are linked at the bottom of this article, their appears to be a deliberate effort to avoid using the word “plastic” by the people involved in the industry. There are plenty of euphemisms like “product” and “raw material” that are being used instead of what the public would instantly understand – they’re making lots of plastic. And we now know that there is a direct link between plastic and shale gas.

Plastic production is planned to rise exponentially!

It was also highlighted in this BBC programme that plastic production is expected to rise exponentially.

Source – http://www.grida.no/resources/6923

This is very scary. We can’t cope with the plastic we have today, and we’re making somewhere around 400 million tonnes per year, and by 2030 we’ll make over 600 million tonnes per year and by 2050 over 1,800 million tonnes per year.

In 2050, it’s forecast that we’ll make more plastic in a single quarter than we do in a whole year now.

If this happens, quite simply, the world will be dead. Life won’t be able to thrive because of all the plastic waste.

We can’t blame the companies or the industry (at least not fully) because we’re the ones who happily buy plenty of things we don’t need that include plastic.

This all has to stop and it’s time to release the emergency brake.

Source – https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full

Where is the government?

As with many of these things, I’m often left wondering where is the government on this, what are they doing? The government is supposed to be looking after all the people in the country, not just the people running big companies. Every persons vote in the UK counts as much as everyone else’s doesn’t it? It should, but politics is now heavily affected by business. Companies and business leaders seem to have more power than politicians and that shouldn’t be the case. They’ve achieved this by manipulation of the media and by convincing governments that they need to fully support business or the economy will drop and there will be more people out of work.

This is sad and it shouldn’t be this way. Sure, business and the economy is important but it’s not more important that the welfare of people and the protection of our environment. It’s the governments job to ensure the balance of these three factors is maintained. If business is allowed to do as it likes, it’s so easy for it to slide towards making profits at the expense of people and the environment.

Time for some new laws

Since the world has an obvious emergency on it’s hands with plastic waste, governments need to immediately act with some new laws, like this;

  • Ban the production of new plastics for single use purposes (see Ban New Plastic)
    • Many companies might complain bitterly about an immediate ban, so we could,
    • Declare that producing new single use plastics will be banned by 2022 (or something like that)
    • Immediately introduce a tax on the production of single use plastics (enough tax for single use plastics to start looking expensive compared to alternatives)
    • Use the proceeds of this tax to promote new recycling and plastic alternative companies
    • Increase the tax each year until the ban is in place

What each individual can do

The best thing we can do, to get an immediate response from the government, would be to write to your member or minister. If enough people wrote to the government, they would take notice.

Another thing we all can do this very second is to avoid single use plastic like the plague. Refuse to buy as many things as you can that include single use plastic (and complain to the company offering these, if you have time).

We have to act and we have to act swiftly, because the world will die from plastic before too long.

I hope this article has helped you become aware of the link between plastic and shale gas in the UK. That plastic bag you were given at the supermarket is not only going to play a part in the world’s pollution well beyond your lifetime, it might well be part of the reason why people are fracking the ground over large parts of the US. Do you really need that plastic bag?

Related Links – Plastic and Shale Gas

  • First US shale gas arrives at Ineos plant in Scotland – from BBC News
    • “Ineos said the gas would secure the future of the plant’s workforce.”
    • “Some say this could amount to a renaissance for our chemicals industry which provides key products for manufacturers across the UK.”
    • “Jim Ratcliffe, Ineos founder and chairman, said shale gas had helped to secure 10,000 jobs.”
    • “He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that the chemicals industry was ‘not perfect’ and that there would be the ‘occasional’ environmental issue.”
    • “The company said the shipment aboard the carrier Ineos Insight was the culmination of a £1.6bn investment resulting in eight tankers forming a “virtual pipeline” across the Atlantic between the US and the UK and Norway.”
    • “Most people imagine shale gas as something you burn to create electricity and energy. What Ineos will do with it at Grangemouth is take ethane from the gas and create plastic pellets for general manufacturing.”
    • “The company says that previously there have been plentiful supplies in the North Sea, but for the past three or four years it’s been diminishing and the pellet-making process has been running at half speed.”
  • INEOS is investing £350m in a new state of the art, energy efficient power plant at its Grangemouth site – from INEOS’ website;
    • “INEOS O&P UK operates world scale petrochemical production plants”
    • “Grangemouth Investment: The O&P UK business is undertaking regeneration works at its Grangemouth site. Demolition of old manufacturing plant and buildings is making way for future developments and investments. In 2016, the business completed construction of a high-quality modern office accommodation and business headquarters. It continues to drive forward plans to develop a truly competitive chemical cluster exploiting the key advantages of its location, infrastructure and supply of US shale gas ethane as a feedstock.”
  • INEOS is to invest £60 million in the UK to expand production at its Grangemouth site – again from INEOS’ website
    • “The project is made possible because of US ethane, which has been fundamental in turning around the fortunes of the site.”
    • “The successful completion in 2016 of our project to bring to Grangemouth plentiful supplies of competitive US shale gas ethane over a long-term agreement, has breathed new life into the plant.”
    • “The addition of a tenth furnace, will improve efficiency of the plant and increase its production capacity”
    • “Production from Grangemouth provides vital raw materials used extensively throughout UK industry.”
    • Not one mention of the word “plastic” on this webpage!
  • War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita, Series 1, Episode 3 – from the BBC
    • In the final episode of the series, Anita Rani investigates the tsunami of single-use plastic that parents pick up in the form of give-away toys. It turns out that McDonald’s are the largest toy distributor in the world, handing out over 1.4 billion plastic toys per year worldwide. They claim on their website that they are recyclable, but a visit to Simon Ellin, the CEO of the Recycling Association, makes it very clear that while that may be true in theory, in reality it’s not that simple.On our street, the residents attempt to go plastic free during the toughest time of year, Christmas. Christmas generates a mind-blowing 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging. Is it possible to avoid the plastic wrapping, decorations and cheap plastic presents without turning into a Scrooge?Meanwhile, Hugh is in Scotland. He’s learnt that at the same time as the public are trying to reduce the amount of plastics in their lives, the plastics industry has big plans to increase plastic production by 50% before 2040. To find out more, he visits the INEOS factory in Grangemouth, owned by the richest man in Britain, where they produce a staggering 60-70 billion tiny plastic pellets every day.Anita meets two young campaigners who are trying to do something about it. Ella, aged 9, and Caitlin, aged 7, have started a petition telling McDonald’s to stop giving out plastic toys with their Happy Meals. So far they‘ve gathered over 166,000 signatures. But when they try to deliver it to someone in the sustainability department at McDonald’s HQ in London, Anita and the girls don’t get the welcome they expect.After four months, the experiment to find out how much one street could reduce its reliance on single-use plastics is over – and the results are staggering. Despite the overall success, there’s no doubt the residents believe that supermarkets could do much more to help.In Hugh’s experience, nothing makes supermarkets more anxious than the prospect of losing loyal customers. They only ever change when customers ask them to, and they are always asking for our feedback. So what would happen, Hugh wonders, if every one of us joined forces, and together fed back our unwanted plastic to the supermarkets?”
  • Rising use of plastics to drive oil demand to 2050: IEA – from Reuters
    • “Petrochemicals that are derived from oil and gas feedstocks form the building blocks for products that range from plastic bottles and beauty products to fertilisers and explosives.”
    • “Oil demand for transport is expected to slow by 2050 due to the rise of electric vehicles and more-efficient combustion engines, but that would be offset by rising demand for petrochemicals”
    • “Petrochemicals are expected to account for more than a third of global oil demand growth by 2030 and nearly half of demand growth by 2050”