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Examining the connection between plastic pollution and climate change..

May 18, 2020

 

Plastic pollution and its devastating effect on our ocean is finally strongly on our radar but what you might be less aware of is its huge contribution to climate change.

 

It is estimated that around 12 million tonnes of plastic per year  enters the ocean and this is killing around 1 million marine animals each year. Poisons are emitted by plastics when broken down or heated, these are ingested by fish and have a detrimental effect on human health as they are entering our food chain but this is not the worst of the problem.

 

Plastic is one of the most persistent pollutants on Earth. We created it to last and it sure does, it never disappears, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.

At every step of its long life cycle even after its been discarded plastic creates green house emissions that are contributing to the warming of our world.

 

The problem starts at the beginning of it's life cycle - almost all plastic is made from fossil fuels (oil and gas). The process of extracting those fuels and manufacturing plastic creates billions of tonnes of green house gases.

 

Then, unfortunately, the end of its life cycle is not the end of its impact. The Centre for International Environmental law found the following - 'While some plastic can be recycled, doing so involves many steps that require separate collection, long-distance transportation, processing, and re-manufacture. The high costs of these steps, the low commercial value of recycled plastic, and the low cost of virgin material mean that plastic recycling is rarely profitable and requires considerable government subsidies.

 

Due to these limitations, only nine percent of all plastic ever discarded since 1950 has been recycled, while another 12 percent has been incinerated. The remaining plastic has been buried or ended up in open yards for burning and dumping, in oceans and other waterways, and scattered across human and natural landscapes worldwide. Regardless of disposal method, all discarded plastic represents a danger to human health and the environment. Whenever plastic is burned, it emits greenhouse gases, principally CO2.'

 

'Globally, in this year alone, researchers estimate that the production and incineration of plastic will pump more than 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By 2050, those emissions could rise to 2.8 billion tonnes.'

 

The oceans are our lifeline, they provide the largest natural carbon sinks for greenhouse emissions. Plastic is destroying this. Not only does it poison and smother the ocean inhabitants but as it breaks down over hundreds of years, sunlight and heat cause it to release powerful greenhouse gases. As our climate changes, the planet gets hotter, the plastic breaks down into more methane and ethylene, increasing the rate of climate change, and so maintaining the cycle. Micro-plastics are ingested by plankton which is poisoning and destroying them. Plankton play a major role in taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water and burying it in deep ocean sinks.

 

Since the start of the industrial era the oceans have absorbed 30 - 50% of carbon produced into the atmosphere, we must acknowledge the enormity of what's at stake here.

 

How can we make a difference? 

What needs to happen is a complete ban on the production and use of single use plastics, we as the consumer need to halt any demand for it by changing our lifestyles and habits. 

The introduction of fines and accountability on big corporations not making changes to include plastic free production and packaging methods.

 

We need to remove and reuse what is already out there in landfill and the ocean, lots of brands such as ourselves are reusing existing polyester materials reducing the demand for the production of man made polyester products and cutting down the pollution but there is a long way to go.

 

The government need to be enforcing ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors and this needs to become a priority right now if we are to slow down climate change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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