The EU’s Dirty Plastic Secret: EU-Mercosur Deal Set to Boost Trade in Single-Use Plastics

Our planet is flooded with plastics. While nature, the climate, biodiversity, and human health suffer from the ever-increasing volumes of plastic waste, the fossil fuel industry continues to produce it and to profit from it.

This analysis reveals that the planned trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur (made up of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay) will eliminate tariffs for plastics exports from the EU to South America – including tariffs for plastic items whose trade and use are banned in the EU in order to protect the environment and human health, such as single-use plastic cutlery. This stands in stark contrast to ongoing negotiations over a Global Plastics Treaty to significantly reduce plastic production and phase out plastic pollution, as well as to EU legislation aimed at reducing plastic use and avoiding plastic waste. This planned trade agreement is a textbook case of double standards.

Fertilizers and pesticides are interdependent inputs to a destructive food production model that is contributing to catastrophic biodiversity collapse, toxic pollution, and the violation of human rights. But there is an often-overlooked dimension of the threat posed by these agrochemicals: their fossil fuel origins. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides are fossil fuels in another form, making them an underrecognized but significant driver of the climate crisis. Further, the close ties between agrochemicals and fossil fuels mean that industrial food production is vulnerable to the volatility inherent in oil and gas markets, as starkly illustrated by the 2022 market shocks in food, fuel, and fertilizer prices. 

For over a decade, the fossil fuel industry has been betting on petrochemicals (namely, plastics) to maintain profits as the world moves away from oil and gas as fuels. Fossils, Fertilizers, and False Solutions exposes how fossil fuel and fossil fertilizer companies are aligning to pursue a new escape hatch: one that purports to solve the climate challenge of hydrocarbon combustion by using the hydrogen and managing the carbon. 

The fertilizer industry, and the processes it already uses to make its products, hold the keys to this new model. Largely unnoticed by media and civil society watchdogs, oil, gas, and agrochemical companies are partnering on a rapidly growing wave of new projects that would use carbon capture and storage (CCS) to produce fossil gas-based “blue” ammonia (and its “blue” hydrogen precursor), not only as a critical fertilizer input, but as a combustible fuel for transport and energy. Through such approaches, the fertilizer and fossil fuel companies seek to greenwash their polluting business, cash in on generous new subsidies for CCS, and access new markets as “clean energy companies.” 

This report begins by summarizing synthetic fertilizer market trends, describing how chemical fertilizer is tied to fossil fuels through feedstocks, examining the 2022 food and fertilizer market disruptions, and calling attention to the ecological and climate impacts of synthetic fertilizers. It then explores how the fertilizer industry and fossil fuel producers are capitalizing on the climate crisis to open new avenues for profit and production by laundering their emissions through the chemicals and agriculture sector. 

The corporate-controlled, input-reliant model of industrial agriculture is in need of a profound transformation to resilient, regenerative models that enhance food and energy sovereignty so that the ecosystems and communities that depend on them can thrive. The need for such a fundamental transformation is as urgent and as compelling as the global energy transition, the transition away from plastic pollution, and the transition to a world free of toxic chemicals. Those transitions can only be achieved if the common roadblock is removed: a fossil-fueled system that has captured politics and is burning, polluting, and poisoning people and the planet. At a time of surging fossil fuel, fertilizer, and food prices, and with the escalating climate crisis as a backdrop, the case for transitioning away from fossil fertilizer and from fossil fuels altogether has never been clearer.

Disclosed delegates tied to the world’s biggest polluting oil and gas firms and their trade groups have attended UN-led climate talks at least 7200 times over the last 20 years, according to a new analysis from the Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) coalition.

Just days ahead of COP28, an event already mired in controversy in part due to the fossil fuel boss at its helm, the analysis shines a light on the concerted and obstructive presence of the fossil fuel lobby at the heart of efforts to avert total climate collapse. 

Since COP9 in 2003, disclosed employees of fossil fuel firms have attended negotiations a minimum of 945 times. Disclosed staff from the “Big 5” oil giants – ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and TotalEnergies—have been granted a minimum of 267 passes.

Representatives from trade associations representing the world’s largest fossil fuel polluters have meanwhile attended COPs at least 6581 times. These groups have used their attendance at COP to lobby to advance fossil fuel interests.

The richest 1 percent grabbed nearly two-thirds of all new wealth worth $42 trillion created since 2020, almost twice as much money as the bottom 99 percent of the world’s population, reveals the Oxfam report, “Survival of the Richest.” During the past decade, the richest 1 percent had captured around half of all new wealth.

Key findings include:

  • Super-rich outstrip their extraordinary grab of half of all new wealth in past decade. 

Billionaire fortunes are increasing by $2.7 billion a day even as at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages.

 -A tax of up to 5 percent on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires could raise $1.7 trillion a year, enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty.

The Gendered and Racial Impacts of the Fossil Fuel Industry in North America and Complicit Financial Institutions (third edition), is a report that addresses the disproportionate gender and race-specific health and safety impacts as well as human and Indigenous rights issues of fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure in the United States and selected parts of Canada— interlocking issues that have been sorely neglected in the discourse regarding fossil fuel extraction. The report spotlights the role that a specific set of financial institutions, including banks, asset managers, and insurance companies, play in preserving and perpetuating negative gender and racial impacts through focusing on eight case studies in North America.

In her eye-opening and engaging book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, journalist Susan Freinkel treks through history, science, and the global economy to assess the real impact of plastic in our lives, describing the crisis point we’ve reached. She tells her story through eight familiar plastic objects: the comb, chair, Frisbee, IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle, and credit card. Each one illuminates a different facet of our synthetic world, and together they give us a new way of thinking about a substance that has become the defining medium — and metaphor — of our age.