By Reilly McKnight
November 9, 2022
UPDATED 12:00 PM EST
[Photo Credit: Chemistry World]
While plastic has become heavily intertwined with pollution, it is a vital component of many common, vital objects the world has become accustomed to. Even still, the production of plastic involves the use of fossil fuels, harmful to Earth’s atmosphere. According to BBC Earth, about 4% of oil and petroleum harvested yearly is used to create plastic polymers.
However, recent scientific discoveries reveal that carbon dioxide (CO2) can be captured from the atmosphere and used to manufacture plastics as an alternative to fossil fuels. This is done through a process of what the International Energy Forum Describes as “artificial photosynthesis” which involves using energy to convert carbon dioxide into solid objects consisting of carbon. Catalysts, materials that speed up chemical reactions, are integral to making this process possible. Copper is used as a catalyst to remove one oxygen atom from the CO2 molecule creating carbon monoxide (CO). While incredibly dangerous to humans if inhaled, CO can efficiently be converted into plastics. This newly-discovered process is quickly emerging as a promising alternative to traditional plastics since it decreases the number of fossil fuels needed to be extracted from our Earth and also removes CO2 from the atmosphere, which currently contains far more CO2 than the planet can support.
In terms of large-scale production of carbon-based plastics, there is still a way to go since this is a relatively new scientific invention. However, adopting this production technique would certainly entice many national and international corporations, which have set goals of net-zero emissions within a certain time frame. Carbon-based plastic offers an affordable product that if production reaches a global scale- could remove over a billion tonnes of CO2 from our delicate atmosphere. Additionally, this form of plastic has been shown in testing to be useful in a breadth of applications such as packaging foams, adhesives, sealants, and coating resins, performing in many cases better than its fuel-based counterpart.
In conclusion, while plastics derived from capturing CO2 are still yet to be adopted to a scale that would significantly impact global warming, the scientific potential and promise of this discovery is very much evident.
Cormier, Zoe. “Turning Carbon Emissions into Plastic.” BBC Earth, 2022,
“From Mattresses to Sunglasses: Turning CO2 into Plastics.” International Energy Forum, 2021,
“Recycling Carbon Dioxide to Make Plastics.” Energy.gov, 2013,
Wilkinson, Matt. “Recycling CO2 to Make Plastic.” Chemistry World, Chemistry World, 29 Jan.
Wright, Anthony. “Turning CO2 into Plastics.” Gasworld, 6 July 2022,