What does the carbon emission lifecycle of a plastic product look like?


Curious because in my mind it seems very difficult to transition to a world that produces zero oil. Even if we transition most/all energy consumption away from fossil fuels, won’t we still need oil to make all of the products that we consume today? With that in mind, what does the carbon footprint of plastics look like, and when does the majority of its emissions happen? Is it during production? Transportation? Do emissions occur during landfill decomposition?

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You need to distinguish between fossil fuel (oil from the ground) and oil from other places.

To minimize carbon emission, we need to stop taking carbon (oil, coal, gas) out of the ground and sticking it in the atmosphere.

That doesn’t mean we need to stop using oil. We’re perfectly capable of getting oil from plants (and animals, although that’s not very efficient) or synthesizing it directly from carbon-neutral energy sources + a hydrogen and carbon source (often agricultural waste). That’s not necessarily very energy efficient but it gives you a carbon-neutral oil supply for those applications where you really need oil or related hydrocarbons. As our supply of carbon-neutral energy goes up exponentially (mostly wind & solar, now) and the cost drops, we’ll worry less about the absolute energy requirement and more about the net carbon emission.