Hello marinibug and thank you for your question.
Well, apart from the obvious (that the cost of plastics will continue
to rise until it is not economically viable to use crude oil) some
estimates say that at the current rate of consumption we have about 40
- 45 years left of crude oil, but some put the figure much higher.
However it`s not all bad news for plastics after say 2050. We must
remember that by then, recycling will have improved (we hope!) but
even recycling is no long term solution (it`s not possible to recycle
100% of all plastics forever) Probably the biggest future for plastics
after the oil runs out will be biodegradable plastics made from
cellulose or plastics based on corn-based polylactic acid.
polylactic acid (PLA)
February 2, 2005
"PLA is made by fermenting the starch in corn into lactic acid which
is then made into a form of plastic. This technology can create, out
of corn and other grains, any product that currently uses crude oil as
its origin, including textiles and plastics."
"Plastics from renewable raw materials
Plastics based on renewable raw materials are not a novelty. The first
plastics which were used in large amounts were modified natural
products. Examples include rubber based on natural rubber (1839),
celluloid from cellulose (1865) and galalith which comes from casein
in milk. (1897). Natural rubber is still an important product today.
In the first third of the 20th century, polymers based on renewable
raw materials were dominant. Then gradually plastics based on fossil
raw materials began to take over, due to their ready availability and
the fact that they created completely new possibilities in the world
Today the interest in plastics based on renewable raw materials has
increased considerably. The aim here is to move away from
petroleum-based plastics towards renewable raw materials, whilst at
the same time trying to synthesize new products with special,
desirable properties. For example, sugars are used as the alcohol
components in the production of polyurethanes, and scientists are
trying to better exploit raw materials, such as cellulose, which are
available in large amounts. Products which are biologically
degradable, ie which can easily be disposed of after use, are also
gaining considerable interest. Only a few examples of the many
possibilities will be illustrated here. We will start with the classic
example, rubber, and extend the range from plastics based on
cellulose, starch and 2-hydroxypropanoic acid (lactic acid) to
polyurethanes made using castor oil."
"Price and the future" (of plastics)
"One of the great appeals of plastics have been their low price, as
compared to other materials. However, in recent years the cost of
plastics has been rising dramatically. The cause of the increase is
the sharply rising cost of petroleum, the raw material that is
chemically altered to form commercial plastics. As the cost of plastic
hinges on the cost of petroleum, should petroleum prices continues to
rise, so will the cost of plastic. In 2004, the higher price of plasic
drove a number of plastic toy manufacturers out of business.
Fears of dwindling petroleum supplies are becoming very real, with
publications such as USA Today reporting that current oil reserves
will only last 40 years. Alternate reserves such as oil shale and tar
oil (tar sand) do exist, but the cost of production is much higher
than with current sources. Thus, even if alternative sources are used,
costs will continue to rise.
Scientists are seeking cheaper alternatives to plastic. Some plastic
alternatives are: graphite, fiberglass, carbon fiber, graphene, carbon
nanotubes, diamond, aerogel, carbon nanofoam, cellulose soybean
plastic (bioplastic), and other carbon-based non-petroleum materials.
Some of these alternatives are too expensive or not malleable enough,
but can be used in some plastic applications. Some are many times the
strength of plastic, but crack if made thin like cellophane. The most
promising alternatives to plastic are graphene, carbon nanotube, and
carbon nanofoam. All three of these are made of nanocarbons, products
of the new nanotechnology. Nanocarbons are very cheap, 100 times
stronger than steel, slicker than Teflon, lightweight, and can be made
very thin, made to stretch, and built into any shape - all the things
plastic can do. In addition, nanocarbon manufacturing is low- to
non-polluting. Already bowling balls, golf balls, sports equipment,
and water-proof cotton balls have been made of nanocarbons."
"Plastic comes from oil -- and plastic is everywhere.
You may think of plastic as cheap, but it's cheap no longer.
NOEL WILLIAMS, MANAGING DIRECTOR, DOW CHEMICAL: Prices of plastics
have moved from maybe a year to 18 months ago from a $700 level up to
$1,500 a tonne in US dollars and that's been across the board on just
about all the plastics.
STEPHEN LONG: To make matters worse, demand for plastic is
outstripping supply and industry heavyweights like Noel Williams say
that will mean higher prices on the shop floor.
NOEL WILLIAMS: I would say over the next 12 months you will see that
general consumer products will show that elevated price.
STEPHEN LONG: It's wall-to-wall plastic at the pharmacy and chemist
Bob Grant is bracing for price hikes.
BOB GRANT: Oh, I think there's no doubt it would have a cost impact.
STEPHEN LONG: If you think above US$50 a barrel of oil is bad, try US$120."
"The current rate of consumption around the world is 22 billion
barrels per year. At this rate, the world has about 45 years left to
enjoy the luxuries that oil provides."
"Crude Oil - 41 years"
"The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas"
Thank you for your question and if you need any clarification of my
answer, do not hesitate to ask before rating my answer.
Very best regards
Search strategy included:
"Oil runs out" plastic alternatives