Giving Compass' Take:
- The growing demand for plastics, leading to disposal and plastic pollution, adds to the threat of climate change.
- How can we manage plastic pollution alongside mitigating the effects of climate change?
- Read these 12 facts about plastic pollution that you need to know.
What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
From bags caught in hedgerows to bottles bobbing in the ocean, the visible signs of our single-use plastic addiction are everywhere. We all know that plastic pollution is a big problem. But what is less talked about is exactly how plastic contributes to global warming.
From the way plastics effect marine environments to how they are disposed, here’s how they are adding to the climate change problem.
Our appetite for plastics is fueling growing demand for petrochemical products, the International Energy Agency says. Even as we try to curb fossil-fuel use in sectors such as transportation and heating, consumption of plastics will only increase, based on our current trajectory. The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) estimates that if trends continue, plastics will account for 20 percent of oil consumption by 2050.
Getting rid of all this plastic also causes problems for the planet. Just 16 percent of plastics are recycled — the rest goes to landfill for incineration, or is just dumped.
Much of the plastic that doesn’t make it to the recycling plant ends up in our rivers and ocean. Not only is this a danger to the animals and plants whose habitats have become aquatic garbage patches, but it also poses a threat to the climate, as plastic releases greenhouse gases as it slowly breaks down. Sunlight and heat cause it to release methane and ethylene – and at increasing rate as the plastic breaks down into ever smaller pieces.
On top of this, research suggests that microplastics affect the ability of marine microorganisms to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. At least half of Earth’s oxygen comes from the ocean, mostly produced by plankton. These tiny organisms also capture carbon through photosynthesis, making our ocean a vitally important carbon sink. Microplastics affect the ability of these organisms to grow, reproduce and capture carbon. And by grazing on microplastics, these plankton could further accelerate the loss of ocean oxygen.
This means the pernicious effects of all this plastic pollution on the marine environment are particularly concerning. A plastic-choked and warming ocean will create a negative feedback loop where plant and animal life suffer, less carbon dioxide is absorbed and our ability to rein in climate change is further hampered.
Read the full article about plastic pollution by Charlotte Edmond at GreenBiz.