big city

Plastic has revolutionized our lives, but its carbon footprint – the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from the production and use of plastic materials – contributes significantly to global warming and is expected to increase considerably in the coming years.

By 2050, it is estimated that plastic production will account for 20% of oil usage and 15% of the world’s annual carbon emissions due to its reliance on fossil fuels and its contribution to greenhouse gases throughout its lifecycle.

Only by being aware of the size of the increasing global carbon footprint created by the plastic pollution crises can we take action to diminish emissions and counter the effects of global warming.

At Renegade Plastics, we’re doing our best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by producing less harmful plastics and educating our customers on how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions – which we cover in this blog.

What Is Plastic, and How Is It Made?

Plastic is made from a wide variety of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds that are malleable and can be molded into solid objects of various shapes.

Different Types of Plastic and Their Properties

Most plastics today come from fossil fuel-based chemicals, like natural gas and petroleum; however, newer industrial techniques have made it possible to produce plastics from renewable sources, such as corn and cotton.

In general, we can classify plastic into three groups:

  • Thermoplastics: Thermoplastics are pliable when heated, easily reshaped, and recyclable. They are commonly used to make consumer electronics, water bottles, and packaging materials.
  • Thermosetting plastics: Thermosetting plastics are a type of polymer that hardens and sets when exposed to heat. These plastics make long-lasting products and cannot be reshaped like thermoplastics. Urea-formaldehyde and phenolic resins are the most common thermosetting plastics used to make electrical insulation, adhesives, and protective coatings.
  • Biobased and biodegradable plastics: Biobased and biodegradable plastics are created from renewable sources like biological sources like plant starches. While not all biobased plastics are biodegradable, they generally have a lower carbon foot than petroleum-sourced plastics, and biobased plastics naturally decompose in the environment. During biodegradation, the material breaks down into components such as carbon dioxide, water, and biomass. Unlike plastic from petroleum sources, which can remain in the environment for centuries, biodegradable plastics break down in a few months or years.

The Plastic Manufacturing Process

plastic carbon footprint

The plastic manufacturing process typically involves four stages: raw material preparation, compounding, forming, and finishing.

  • Raw Material Preparation: This stage involves preparing the raw materials used to create the plastic product, which includes blending ingredients, such as colorants and additives, and then melting the mixture.
  • Compounding: The melted raw materials are mixed with other ingredients to create a compound. This compound is then cooled and cut into pellets or granules.
  • Forming: Pellets or granules are manipulated into the desired shape with processes such as injection molding, extrusion, and blow molding.
  • Finishing: The product is completed by performing necessary tasks such as painting, coating, or assembly. Once finished, quality assurance testing is conducted to ensure it meets the required standards.

It’s no secret that carbon emissions from plastic production have adverse environmental impacts. Energy and resources needed during production lead to air and water pollution, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, plastic that isn’t biodegradable ends up in landfills and oceans, increasing global pollution.

Understanding the Carbon Footprint of Plastic

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) generated by our actions and, in this context, plastic production. Developed in the 1990s, it has since become a popular way of assessing and reducing the environmental effects of human activities.

How Is the Carbon Footprint of Plastic Calculated?

The life cycle assessment (LCA) approach to calculating carbon footprints is a tool used to measure the environmental impact of a product, process, or activity. An LCA considers all the stages of a product’s life cycle, from raw material extraction to manufacturing, transport, use, and disposal.

It evaluates the emissions of greenhouse gases associated with each stage and calculates the product’s total carbon footprint. LCA also considers the energy used in each stage and other environmental impacts, such as waste generation and water use.

The results of an LCA can be used to evaluate the environmental impact of a product or activity and to inform decision-making and product design.

Therefore, the entire plastic production process and product lifecycle – the extraction, manufacturing, use, disposal, and recycling of Plastic – contributes to its carbon footprint.

The carbon footprint of plastics continues even after we’ve disposed of them too. Dumping, incinerating, recycling, and composting (for certain plastics) all release a significant carbon footprint.

Plastics generate heat-trapping gases at every stage of their life cycle. According to one report by the Centre for International Environmental Law, “in 2019, the production and incineration of plastic produced more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases — equal to the emissions from 189 five-hundred-megawatt coal power plants”

Throughout their lifecycle, plastics emit 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. By 2030, this could reach around 300 new coal-fired power plants.

Factors Affecting the Carbon Footprint of Plastic

does plastic contain carbon

The environmental footprint of plastic production depends on the type of plastic produced. Generally, plastic production involves one of two methods: injection molding and extrusion.

  • Injection molding: When plastic is injected into a mold and cooled to form a solid product.
  • Extrusion: When plastic is heated and forced through a die to form a continuous shape.

Extrusion and injection molding deal with heated plastic, creating several environmental concerns. However, extruded products are not as durable, which further intensifies the environmental impact of the process.

Right now, it’s impossible to immediately eradicate all plastic, which is why effective plastic management is crucial for our planet’s future.
CO^2 emissions from plastic production can be minimized by:

  • Reducing the amount of energy needed for production and transportation.
  • Proper plastic disposal to minimize methane during decomposition.
  • Recycling and reusing to conserve energy and minimize production.

Plastic Alternatives and Their Carbon Footprint

Then there are also plastic alternatives, which sometimes reduce the carbon footprint associated with plastic production. Although — as you’ll see — it’s not necessarily a clear-cut solution.

Alternative Materials to Plastic

These alternative materials CAN be used for many different products, but they also have their pros and cons:


  • Advantages: Made from renewable sources such as corn, sugarcane, and vegetable oils that are biodegradable or compostable.
  • Disadvantages: Can be expensive and may not be as durable as traditional plastics.


  • Advantages: Non-toxic, recyclable, and doesn’t leach chemicals into the environment.
  • Disadvantages: Heavy and can be hazardous to handle or transport.


  • Advantages: A durable material that can be recycled over and over again.
  • Disadvantages: Energy-intensive to manufacture and not biodegradable.


carbon emissions from plastic production

  • Advantages: Renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable.
  • Disadvantages: More expensive than Plastic and can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

Renegade’s low-carbon coated fabrics

  • Advantages: made from non-toxic and fully recyclable materials, enabling a circular economy for industry and agriculture.
  • Disadvantages: A much better alternative to PVC, but still made from plastic.

Carbon Footprint of Alternative Materials

The reality is all packaging and products, whether plastic or other materials, have an environmental impact. A carbon dioxide equivalent like methane and nitrous oxide also adds to global warming.

The matter is complicated, and it would be incorrect to assume that simply decreasing the use of plastic or substituting it will automatically lead to decreased emissions.

For instance, according to the London Imperial College, here’s how carbon dioxide emissions of alternative materials per tonne of 500ml of beverage bottles produced compare to plastic:

  • PET plastic bottles: 4.053 tons of Co2
  • Steel cans: 3.004 tons of Co2
  • Aluminum cans: 12.874 tons of C02
  • Glass bottles: 0.895 tons of C02

Interestingly, plastic produces less carbon dioxide than aluminum. It is also worth noting that aluminum cans, despite often being explicitly touted as alternatives to plastic bottles, still contain considerable amounts of plastic.

Therefore, we need to lower global plastics production while ensuring substitutes don’t lead to a larger carbon footprint. This is where recycling plastic comes into play. By getting rid of the need to create new plastic, the emissions released from processing the waste to retrieve it is surpassed by the reduction in emissions.

How We Can Reduce Plastic’s Carbon Footprint

The scientific community has concluded that even 1.5°C of warming will bring immense risks and result in irreparable damage to ecosystems, as well as detrimental losses to human livelihoods, human rights, and human lives.

To prevent negative outcomes of plastic waste and climate change, the world must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by mid-century. While challenging and expensive, there are ways we can help reduce the global carbon footprint.

Individual and Collective Actions to Reduce Plastic Waste

co2 emissions from plastic production

Government and consumers need to work together to create meaningful and lasting solutions that reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the environment.

Consumer Behavior

More often than not, consumers feel like they can’t defeat ‘the big man,’ however, there are a few things they can do to combat plastic and global warming:

  • Reduce plastic consumption: Opt for reusable alternatives and avoid single-use plastics.
  • Recycle: Using local recycling programs to minimize plastic in landfills and oceans. Recycling wins over virgin plastic production on all environmental measurements, especially concerning carbon emissions.
  • Support eco-friendly businesses: Purchase products from businesses with a sustainability ethos to create a higher demand for plastic-free products.

Government Policies

The plastic crisis has created worldwide worry and has triggered more demands for governmental control at the local, national, and international levels.

The US government has implemented a range of policies and initiatives to combat the plastic problem.

Some include:

  1. Plastic bag bans: among dozens of countries, states and cities, New York City made headlines across the US in 2020 as the world’s cultural capital moved to ban plastic bags.
  2. Make companies pay: In Maine, companies are now responsible for recycling and disposing of cardboard, plastic containers, and nonrecyclable packaging waste, thanks to the Extended Producer Responsibility program, the first of its kind in the United States. This law puts the burden of packaging waste on companies rather than taxpayers.
  3. Shift to a circular economy: The US government is shifting to a circular economy to reduce waste, increase resource efficiency, and reduce the environmental impacts of production and consumption. Circular economies are designed to keep resources circulating for as long as possible rather than discarding them after a single use.
    This reduces waste and pollution, improves resource efficiency, and helps to reduce the environmental impact of production and consumption. Additionally, circular economies can create jobs, stimulate innovation, and improve economic growth. The US government (and Renegade Plastics) see the potential of these benefits and is taking steps to shift to a circular economy.

The Potential Impact of Reducing the Plastic Carbon Footprint on Climate Change

plastic and global warming

Unless we take steps to reduce the production and disposal of plastic, the solutions we are currently using to address the plastic problem – which focuses on managing plastic once it has already been created, disposed of, and turned into waste – will be overwhelmed by the ever-increasing flows of pollution.

It’s as “simple” as this: When plastic production increases, the usage of fossil fuels increases, resulting in further climate change damage. The only way to combat this is to limit the production, particularly single-use plastic, and increase the recycling rate.

Reducing plastic waste has many benefits. It limits the number of animals killed due to plastic waste and stops micro-plastic toxins from entering human bodies, which cause health problems such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and strokes.

Lastly, it saves money because it eliminates the cost of plastic packaging and the need for continually purchasing new plastic-packaged products.

However, reducing plastic waste on a global scale is a complex, multifaceted challenge requiring coordinated efforts from individuals, governments, and industries. As such waste reduction and the need for circularity are two primary challenges faced by plastic packaging producers.

Changing consumer behavior, improving waste management systems, increasing plastic recycling rates, and developing alternatives to plastic is a complex and multi-pronged process. Yet, with concerted efforts, it is possible to reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the environment and protect the health of people, wildlife, and the planet.

Conclusion: Become More Eco-Friendly

Given the current rate of global warming and the distress of climatologists, we ought to take action to curb the plastic pollution crisis. One way to do so is to reduce plastic contamination, which will not only diminish carbon emissions but also safeguard our wildlife and food supply as well as decrease the toxicity of our air and water.

While it’s next to impossible to cut out plastics completely, switching to more environmentally-friendly products is within your control. Going with Renegade’s Plastic is one such solution to address the crises of plastic and greenhouse gases.

Our fabrics are an eco-friendly, non-toxic, and recyclable option composed of polypropylene and have a smaller environmental impact than PVC-coated fabrics. Our materials have a 30%-49% lower carbon footprint compared to PE films over an 8-year period.

Contact us to find out how we can help you and your business combat plastic pollution.

Interested in Our Fabrics?

Interested in Our Fabrics?

Contact Us