The “green plastic” deception

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Manufacturing plastic in petrochemical factories consumes about 270 million tons of oil and gas every year worldwide. The eco community has long held that there was a greener, more environmentally friendly source of plastic-like material: We could grow it, in the form of corn cellulose or fibers in other organic crops. But the bioscience giants like Monsanto, Dow Chemical, and Cargill found that their efforts to produce an organic plastic substitute from converted plant sugars were too difficult and the profit margins too low to continue. So now the genetic whizbangers, instead of finding another substance to replace plastic, are growing man-made plastic fibers inside plants and even bacteria, in much the same way they are “growing” innoculations inside potatoes.

There’s a big problem with this approach, it seems, according to the latest issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. The article, written by two bioengineers involved in developing these pseudo “green plastic” technologies, suggests that even plant-sourced bioengineered plastics emit much more methane and carbon dioxide when they biodegrade than do organic materials, and such plastics still require fossil-fuelled machinery to be extracted from the host plants.

Hey, but if it’s profitable, expect to be sold a green bill of goods with that next liter bottle of Coke.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend