Plastics and climate change breaking carbon lock-ins through three mitigation pathways

Elsevier, One Earth, Volume 5, 15 April 2022, Pages 361-376
Bauer F., Nielsen T.D., Nilsson L.J., Palm E., Ericsson K., Frane A. et al.

The plastic industry is dependent on fossil fuels in various ways that result in strong “carbon lock-in” throughout the value chain and large and growing CO2 emissions. The industry must decarbonize to reach global net-zero pledges. Although a few initiatives have been launched, they primarily focus on plastic waste. Current research has investigated mitigation potential on different parts of the plastic value chain but remains in silos. Here, we review carbon lock-ins throughout the plastic value chain and identify possible mitigation pathways for each stage of the plastic life cycle. We show how lock-ins are stubbornly entrenched across the domains of production, markets, waste management, industry organization, and governance. Overcoming these carbon lock-ins and achieving zero-carbon targets for the sector by 2050 will require thorough systemic change to how plastics are produced, used, and recycled, including promotion of demand reduction strategies, bio-based feedstocks, and circular economy principles. Strict governance structures, enforceable regulation, and a new proactive and inclusive vision for the low-carbon transition are equally important.