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Plastic credits are the newest kind of pollution offset—but do they make a difference?

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

Fast Company

19 March 2021 — One factor at the core of our climate crisis is excess: We’re producing too many carbon emissions, more than our atmosphere can handle. We’re creating too much single-use plastic, more than can be recycled. This excess has reached dangerous levels. Our planet has just 9% of its global carbon budget left, and each year, 8 million tons of plastic makes its way into our oceans.

To combat all this excess, companies can try to simply produce less, but these excesses can be hard to remove entirely from a business model. When a company can’t reduce, there are offsets or credits, which create a market for the effort to reduce these pollutants. When an organization does something that would reduce carbon, like planting trees, they can sell that benefit to a company looking to effectively reduce their emissions. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol standardized carbon credits: each credit would represent one metric ton of CO2. That protocol also created different types of credits, from emission trading—when one country hasn’t emitted as much pollution as they’re “allowed” to, they can sell the left over amount to countries that have already passed their emission targets—to removal units, which use things like reforestation to remove CO2.

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