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Plastic in Our Cars Takes Up 100 Gallons of Oil per Vehicle
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This makes cars unfriendly to the environment

While most environmental campaigners in the world today are focusing their efforts on forcing governments to enforce sharper standards for pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, the issue of just how many gallons of petrol go into making the plastic parts of an average car is not in the spotlight. Seats, dashboards, bumpers, and engine components, they all require large amounts of oil to produce, and statistics show that an average automobile takes up to 100 gallons or more of oil to have all its plastic parts done. Another downside is the fact that the numbers also hold true for hybrids, or even all-electric cars, regardless of how much fuel their engines actually consume.


The Transportation Energy Data Book now shows that, over the past few decades, American automobiles have experienced a shift from being constructed almost entirely out of steel, to being built using a large array of light-weight materials, mostly made out of plastic. While in the 1950s, there was little to no plastic or wood in US-built vehicles, at this point, a car has 260 pounds (120 kilograms) of plastic on board, on average, LiveScience reports.

“It is expected that high oil prices and strict CO2 standards will accelerate the growth [of plastic use]. Plastics are in fact solidified oil,” Belgium-based plastic industry group PlasticsEurope representative Aafko Schanssema explained. The reason why the material began to be used in cars in the first place was, ironically, to reduce fuel consumption and pollution. As engines no longer had to drag a massive body after them, they needed less power, and therefore less fuel.

Statistics have shown that, on a global scale, roughly eight percent of the total amount of oil extracted from deposits goes towards making plastic products, ranging from bags to roller skates, Frisbees and bottles. In order to make one pound (roughly half a kilogram) of plastic, manufacturers have to use 0.4 gallons of oil, which is equivalent to more than two liters. “On the whole, U.S.-made cars have increased in total weight, so that whatever effect can be ascribed to plastics has been more than offset,” Worldwatch expert and senior research Michael Renner said. The weight that was saved by cutting down on steel usage was covered by the addition of other equipment, so the mileage is roughly the same.

“When looking at [the] environmental impact from a life-cycle approach, it has been found that about 95 percent of the environmental impact of a car is during the so-called 'use phase.' End-of-life contributes only marginally to the impact,” Schanssema added. “The production of plastics is of course highly energy-intensive and polluting,” Renner pinpointed.
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