Rotterdam, Netherlands - November 22 2021 : a plant that is part of the petrochemical industry, a pet or plastic factory

Reduce plastic production to ease energy crisis, say green groups

Image credit: Petrochemical PET plastic factory. Photograph: Mikechapazzo |

The EU and its member states should implement emergency measures to restrict the production of single-use plastics and packaging, in a bid to avert the worst of the looming energy crisis in Europe, campaigners have said.

According to a new report from the environmental activist organisation Break Free From Plastic and NGO the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), plastic production was responsible for nearly 9 per cent and 8 per cent of the EU’s final fossil gas and oil consumption respectively in 2020. This is about as much as the final gas consumption in the Netherlands and almost as much as the final oil consumption of Italy in 2020.

Crucially, the report finds that 40 per cent of this gas and more than a fifth of this oil came from Russia in 2020, demonstrating the petrochemical industry’s significant reliance on Russian fossil fuels.

The authors add that moving away from plastic and petrochemicals – and from fossil fuels altogether – “would not only help to prevent war and armed conflict, but it would also help to protect consumers from escalating energy and food prices, in Europe and beyond”.

In July, in a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and what the European Commission described as the Kremlin's “weaponisation of gas exports”, the Commission implemented a plan to reduce gas use in Europe by 15 per cent until next spring. It called on all consumers, public administrations, households, owners of public buildings, power suppliers and industry to take measures to save gas.

But according to the report, the plan reveals “a massive discrepancy between the attention and measures taken against the consumption of fossil gas in households and the lack of attention to the enormous energy and fossil feedstock use of the different industries of the EU member states”. This is despite the fact that in almost every member state, the industry’s fossil gas consumption exceeds that of the fossil gas consumption of European households, they added.

Of all the energy-intensive industries – including steel, automobile manufacturing, machinery, and food and beverages in the EU – plastic production is by far the largest industrial oil, gas and electricity user, the report finds.

In addition, it states that nearly 15 per cent of the final gas and 14 per cent of the final oil consumption in 2020 in the EU 27 was used to manufacture petrochemicals, which are used to manufacture virgin plastic and other petrochemical products.

According to Break Free From Plastic, plastic production is the most energy- and feedstock-intensive of the petrochemicals industry’s processes. Plastic packaging alone accounts for 40 per cent of the end market for plastic products in the EU, about as much as Hungary’s final gas and Sweden and Denmark’s combined oil consumption in 2020.

Delphine Lévi Alvarès, European coordinator for Break Free From Plastic, said: “Not including this sector in the 'Save Gas for a Safer Winter' plan is a serious oversight. While families and small businesses are facing skyrocketing energy bills, the petrochemicals industry is wasting scarce resources to produce unnecessary single-use plastic, fuelling the EU energy crisis.” 

The report recommends that the EU implements a global cap on overall plastics production and begins phasing down plastics production with initial limitations on the production of particularly problematic or unnecessary plastics.

It also says the EU should stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure and that EU attempts to secure oil and gas from Africa, the US and elsewhere offer “only a short-term fix for a long-term problem”.

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