Giving Compass' Take:
- Sangwon Suh, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, conducted a study that evaluated strategies for reducing plastic's carbon footprint.
- Researchers found that only after combining all strategies, they could see a future significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The study shows overall that there will need to be a critical effort by the public to curb emissions. How can donors make the public more aware of this?
- Read more about the fight against ocean plastic pollution.
What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Researchers have determined how much plastic contributes to climate change, and what it would take to curb these emissions.
From campaigns against microplastics to news of the great Pacific garbage patch, public awareness is growing about the outsized effect plastic has on the world’s oceans. However, its effect on the air is far less obvious. Plastic production, use, and disposal all emit prodigious amounts of greenhouse gases, but scientists haven’t had a firm grasp on the scope.
“This is, to our best knowledge, the first global assessment of the life cycle of greenhouse gas emissions from all plastics,” says author Sangwon Suh, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. “It’s also the first evaluation of various strategies to reduce the emissions of plastics.”
In addition to diagnosing the problem, Suh and lead author Jiajia Zheng, a Bren School graduate student, evaluated four strategies for reducing plastic’s carbon footprint.
- Recycling offers perhaps the simplest solution. The emissions reductions from eliminating the need for new plastic outweigh the slightly higher emissions that come from processing the scrap.
- Increasing the percentage of bio-based plastics could also drive down emissions. Bio-based plastics are produced from plants, which capture atmospheric CO2 as they grow.
- Slowing the rising demand for plastics could also limit their emissions, but Suh admits this would be a tall order. Plastics are versatile, cheap, and ubiquitous.
- Ultimately, Suh and Zheng found that replacing fossil-based energy with renewable sources had the greatest impact on plastic’s greenhouse gas emissions overall.
The study’s results underscore just how large an effort is needed to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “The public really has to understand the magnitude of the challenge that we are facing,” Suh says.
Read the full article about cutting plastic emissions to curb climate change by Harrison Tasoff at Futurity.