Petrochemicals, Plastics, & Climate

In 2022, CEH launched a new program focused on Petrochemicals, Plastics & Climate (PPC). Despite growing awareness of the profound climate impacts and health hazards associated with petroleum-derived materials, the petrochemical industry is growing. The ongoing industry buildout continues to disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color, who are also exposed to toxic chemicals at higher rates, are those most threatened by climate change, and face a host of other environmental, social, political and economic injustices. 

Plastic production is also rising as petrochemical companies shift fossil feedstocks from use as fuel to use in plastic. Plastic pollution is not only ubiquitous, but many plastics contain, absorb and/or distribute toxic chemicals. Micro- and nano-plastics created when plastics break down also pose a formidable threat as they accumulate in organisms and the environment. Like other fossil-based products, plastic is also a major contributor to climate change.  

Our new PPC program builds on CEH’s decades of experience supporting institutions to procure safer products, advocating for equitable and health-protective laws and policies, working with communities to safeguard their health and rights, and holding corporations and government accountable for actions or inactions that threaten human and planetary health. 

Our new initiatives within this program focus on turning off the tap on petrochemicals and plastics, and blocking harmful waste management practices that threaten our health and climate.

Curtailing “Chemical Recycling”

The oil and gas industry’s race to replace fossil fuel production with increased plastic production is critically reliant on the myth of plastic’s recyclability. However, EPA estimates that less than 9% of plastic in the US gets recycled each year. An especially harmful component of the petrochemical sector’s recycling myth involves the buildout of so-called “chemical recycling”; practices that in reality involve dangerous plastic incineration and have failed to achieve the benefits espoused by the petrochemical industry. Recent restrictions by countries that historically accepted plastic waste imports have accelerated the buildout of these forms of plastic incineration. 

Data suggest that the pollution from “chemical recycling” incinerators is as bad as–or worse than–the toxic pollution from conventional incinerators. A recent analysis conducted by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that of the eight “chemical recycling” facilities assessed, most were not recycling any plastic, and that they generate large quantities of hazardous waste, release hazardous air pollutants, and are often sited in communities of color or low-income communities that already face multiple threats to their environmental health. The petrochemical and plastic industries are promoting this harmful practice through familiar greenwashing conventions, including false promises of sustainable economic development for low income and rural communities and underhanded policy plays.  

We’re joining with allies across the country to raise awareness of the myths and harms of so-called “chemical recycling”, use policy levers to block its buildout, and emphasize the importance of upstream solutions to the plastic waste crisis. 

News and Resources

Cannabis Company Ordered To Shut Down Diesel Generators Threatening Historic Artist Space

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District ordered a Denver-based cannabis company to shut down the nine unpermitted diesel generators used to power their production facilities in East Oakland on Wednesday, effective immediately.

CEH Condemns Supreme Court’s Decision Gutting EPA’s Ability to Regulate Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA undermines the agency’s ability to regulate emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants under the Clean Air Act, endangering public health and the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions from these power plants contributed to 25% of 2020 U.S.

Built on Repression

This report investigates the increased manufacturing of PVC (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) through state-sponsored labour transfers in China’s Uyghur Region and the routes by which the resulting building materials make their way into international markets.

New Landmark Mandate for Global Plastics Treaty

As a member of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, CEH celebrates the adoption of a landmark mandate last week calling for the development of a global treaty on plastics at the conclusion of the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2).

5 Things You Should Know About Plastic Burning

The oil and gas industry’s race to replace fossil fuel production with increased plastic production is critically reliant on the myth of plastic’s recyclability. However, EPA estimates that less than 9% of plastic in the U.S. gets recycled each year.

Groundbreaking Report Reveals Vinyl Flooring’s ‘Dirty Climate Secret’

Report finds manufacturers’ systematically undercount carbon dioxide emissions from flooring production, fail to disclose use of highly toxic asbestos, mercury, and PFAS chemicals

Ditching Disposables Toolkit

A Toolkit for Healthier Foodware in K-12 Schools

Ditching Disposables: Dish Washing and Dish Machines in K-12 Schools

This webinar explains some of the technical issues around bringing in a new washing system to a school site, a deep dive into an elementary school case study of reusables and how it led to state legislation (namely CA SB 1255), and also how schools can interface with dishware as a service (DaaS) and mobile dish machines.

Webinar: GreenScreen Certified™: PFAS-free and Preferred Food Service Ware

The groundbreaking certification program sets a new safety standard for everyday items like disposable plates and bowls that do not contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) plus thousands of other chemicals of concern. 

BPA in Socks: Are There Harmful Chemicals in Your Socks?

Synthetic materials like polyester are derived from petroleum and are therefore plastic which means BPAs production is linked in many ways to the oil and gas industry. The process of refining petroleum into polyester fibers releases toxic byproducts into the atmosphere surrounding the factories⁴ where BPA is produced. 

Past Projects