In preparation for when the oil runs out (or becomes economically unviable to extract – as detailed in The End of Oil by Paul Roberts) scientists have started developing alternative methods for making plastic. In this case from trees:
Some researchers hope to turn plants into a renewable, nonpolluting replacement for crude oil. To achieve this, scientists have to learn how to convert plant biomass into a building block for plastics and fuels cheaply and efficiently. In new research, chemists have successfully converted cellulose — the most common plant carbohydrate — directly into the building block called HMF in one step.
HMF, also known as 5-hydroxymethylfurfural, can be used as a building block for plastics and “biofuels” such as gasoline and diesel, essentially the same fuels processed from crude oil.
Given that so much of our industrial infrastructure rests on oil it is reassurring that alternative sources of basic materials are being developed.