Quantcast

Plastics Threaten Global Climate at a Massive Scale During Each Point of Lifecycle, Report Finds

Popular
A man protests against the use of disposable plastics outside the Houses of Parliament on March 28 in London. John Keeble / Getty Images

Plastic pollution across the globe is suffocating our planet and driving Earth toward catastrophic climatic conditions if not curbed significantly and immediately, according to a new report by the Center for International Environmental Law (CEIL).


As first reported by The Guardian, a review of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) at each stage of the plastic lifestyle finds that increasing plastic and petrochemical industries expected to accelerate in the next ten years are threatening the ability to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C degrees if the world does not immediately act. This year alone, the production and incineration of plastic will add more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere, equating to the pollution from 189 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.

"Humanity has less than twelve years to cut global greenhouse emissions in half and just three decades to eliminate them almost entirely," said Carol Muffet with CEIL. "The massive and rapidly growing emissions from plastic production and disposal undermine that goal and jeopardize global efforts to keep climate change below 1.5 degrees of warming."

Comparing GHG estimates against global carbon budgets and emissions commitments, the report finds that if plastic production goes as planned, emissions will reach 1.34 gigatons per year by 2030. By 2050, the production and disposal of plastic may generate 56 gigatons of emissions, accounting for as much as 14 percent of the planet's entire remaining carbon budget. The authors are quick to note their assumptions are conservative given the availability of data and the projection of plastic's climate impacts are under a business-as-usual scenario. As such, realistic estimates suggest will actually be much higher.

"It has long been clear that plastic threatens the global environment and puts human health at risk. This report demonstrates that plastic, like the rest of the fossil economy, is putting the climate at risk as well. Because the drivers of the climate crisis and the plastic crisis are closely linked, so to are their solutions: humanity must end its reliance on fossil fuels and on fossil plastics that the planet can no longer afford," said Muffet.

GHG emissions are emitted during each stage of the plastic lifecycle. Nearly every piece of plastic begins as a fossil fuel where extraction and transport can contribute significantly to GHG emissions directly through methane leaks and flaring, as well as fuel combustion and energy consumption. In the U.S. alone in 2015, emissions from fossil fuel extraction and transport attributed to plastic production was as high as 10.5 million metric tons of CO2 per year. The next phase, refining and manufacturing, is among the most GHG-intensive industries and are the fastest growing in terms of emissions.

CIEL


Waste management processes contribute significantly to emissions levels because plastic is either landfilled, recycled or incinerated — each of which produces its own range of GHG emissions. Specifically, incineration is the primary driver of emissions from plastic waste management is expected to grow dramatically in the coming decades as society continues to use more and more plastic.

Lastly, plastics in the environment play a huge role on the climate as it degrades, continually releasing methane and other GHGs that increase as plastics break down further. Additionally, microplastics may interfere with the ocean's ability to absorb and sequester carbon while microplastics contaminating phytoplankton and zooplankton may interrupt their ability to properly fix carbon through natural processes.

"Our world is drowning in plastic, and the plastics industry has been overlooked as a major source of greenhouse gases. But there are ways to solve this problem. We need to end the production of single-use, disposable plastic containers and encourage a transition to a zero-waste future," said Courtney Bernhardt with the Environmental Integrity Project.

Report authors note that immediate action may curb these dramatic effects through the reduction of single-use, disposable plastic and the enforcement of ambitious targets to reduce GHG from all sectors including plastic production. The report also calls for the halting of new oil, gas, and petrochemical infrastructure and to pressure producers to act responsibly.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tim P. Whitby / 21st Century Fox / Getty Images

The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.

Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.

The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
A protest march against the Line 3 pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 18, 2018. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Collin Rees

We know that people power can stop dangerous fossil fuel projects like the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, because we've proved it over and over again — and recently we've had two more big wins.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Scientists released a study showing that a million species are at risk for extinction, but it was largely ignored by the corporate news media. Danny Perez Photography / Flickr / CC

By Julia Conley

Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.

Read More Show Less
DoneGood

By Cullen Schwarz

Ethical shopping is a somewhat new phenomenon. We're far more familiar with the "tried and tested" methods of doing good, like donating our money or time.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

Summer is fast approaching, which means it's time to stock up on sunscreen to ward off the harmful effects of sun exposure. Not all sunscreens are created equally, however.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images

The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.

Read More Show Less
Flooding in Winfield, Missouri this month. Jonathan Rehg / Getty Images

President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.

"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.

Read More Show Less
Reed Hoffmann / Getty Images

Violent tornadoes tore through Missouri Wednesday night, killing three and causing "extensive damage" to the state's capital of Jefferson City, The New York Times reported.

"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."

Read More Show Less