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Environmental Protection & Preservation


National Survey Reveals More than 70% of Americans Don't Know Plastic is Made from Oil


According to a nationwide online survey released today, 72 percent of the American public does not know that conventional plastic is made from petroleum products, primarily oil. The survey was conducted by national online market research firm InsightExpress for Telles, a joint venture of Metabolix, Inc, a company using bioscience to provide clean solutions for plastics, fuels and chemicals, and Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world's largest agricultural processors and the world leader in BioEnergy.

Plastics are everywhere and most Americans have come to rely on plastics in all aspects of their lives. However, very few people realize that plastics are made from oil, further contributing to the problems of energy dependence, greenhouse gas emissions and depleting resources. In fact, nearly 10 percent of U.S. oil consumption - approximately 2 million barrels a day - is used to make plastic.

The survey also revealed a misunderstanding about another important characteristic of traditional plastic - it never goes away. Despite the fact that petroleum-based plastic will never biodegrade, 40 percent of respondents believe that it will biodegrade underground, in home compost, in landfills, or in the ocean. Plastics will not biodegrade in any of these environments. In fact, the only way to rid the planet of existing plastic is by incineration in those cases where it can be recovered.

"Everyone knows about our country's unhealthy reliance on oil and the impact that petroleum use has on climate change," said Jim Barber, President and CEO, Metabolix, which has developed a brand of fully biodegradable Natural Plastics. "Similarly, people see a lot of plastic waste in the form of litter. But the fact that so many people are unaware that plastic is made from oil and that it will persist in the environment for thousands of years, shows the need for education about the impact of plastic on the environment and the various alternatives made from renewable resources."

Americans also have a much more optimistic view of the country's recycling efforts than is supported by the facts. On average, those surveyed believe nearly 40 percent (38.2%) of plastic is recycled, when in fact that figure is less than six percent (5.7%) nationally, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

There is hope, however. When informed that plastic is made from oil and that it never biodegrades, half of Americans indicated they would be willing to pay a premium for natural, biodegradable plastic.

Mr. Barber concluded, "The more Americans understand the environmental impact of using conventional plastics, the more they will look for and demand new solutions for meeting their needs for these essential materials."

Snapshot of Survey Results:
  • 72% of respondents do not know that plastic is made out of oil/petroleum
  • On average, respondents estimated 38% of plastic is recycled (the reality is less than 6%, according to the EPA)
  • Nearly 40% (38.1%) of respondents said plastic will biodegrade underground, in home compost, in landfills, or in the ocean (plastic will not biodegrade in any of these environments).
  • After learning that plastic is made from oil and never biodegrades, half (50.1%) of respondents stated they would be likely or very likely to pay 5-10% more for a natural, biodegradable plastic. Only 24% were unlikely/very unlikely to pay this much more.
  • 62% of respondents rate their own level of environmental knowledge as fair or poor, with only 5.6% rating it as excellent.






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