Study warns us of single-use plastic’s environmental effects

Recent studies have shown that the continued use of single-use plastics is causing the effects of climate change to rapidly increase as time goes on.

Influenced by other environmentally problematic actions as fracking, the increase in plastic production can prove harmful to the environment. Each part of a plastic’s life cycle contributes to the increase in greenhouse gases, be it the stages of its production to how it’s handled when disposed of as waste.

 

The Full Effect of Plastic Waste

The Paris Climate Agreement’s aim to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius will be even more difficult to accomplish. Plastic is estimated to make up 13% of carbon emissions, equal to 615 power plants filled with coal, by 2050.

Though the impact of plastic production and waste were initially hidden from public knowledge, the affect plastic has had on greenhouse gases can no longer be ignored. The effect it has had on the ocean has become unavoidable and the report covering all this cited that the refining process requiring so many fossil fuels for something not disposed of effectively to be a major problem in the process.

Disposable packaging plastic has been found to be the main cause in the increase of plastic pollution, as it’s taken for granted massively. Those looking into the matter are making it apparent how important limiting plastic production and its disposal are, saying that the expansions of both the plastic and petrochemical industries will cause the pollution to become far worse as time gradually passes.

As an example of the latter, Shell’s ethane cracker being created in Pennsylvania is estimated to emit an average of 2.25 million tonnes of CO2 per year, whilst ExxonMobil’s ethylene plant in Texas could release an average of 1.4 million tonnes. This is the equivalent of 800,000 cars using up the entirety of a full tank of fuel.

At this point, plastic is an inescapable pollutant and one of the biggest concerns to the environment, particularly with how varied its use is through being a material of bottles, bags, packaging, clothing accessories, prosthetics, car parts or construction materials.

Packaging alone makes up 40% of the industrial use of plastic and, as such, is amongst the biggest contributors to marine pollution. By 2015, 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic had been produced in the year, with two-thirds having been thrown away as waste without being retrieved from the environments it’d been placed in such as oceans or natural land areas. Alongside that, packaging is one of the most difficult plastic products to recycle due to its single-use design and the increasing complexity of modern designs. 40% of packaging waste is disposed of in landfills, with 14% being incinerated and another 14% being incinerated. Whilst incineration isn’t a desired option due to the amount of carbon dioxide it emits, this option can be less harmful than letting the plastic rot and produce other polluting gases in some cases.

 

How we could fix it

In order to combat this, the world can collectively:

  • Completely stop the production and use of single-use plastics.
  • Stop development of new petrochemical plants for oils, gases and other fossil fuels.
  • Expand and promote the idea of zero-waste communities to push society into adopting these systems.
  • Fine polluters in some way in an act known as an “Extended Producer Responsibility.”

 

The first major step in solving this problem, according to most experts, is going to the source and changing the design through refinement. Almost all plastics require fossil fuels to be created, making them a limited resource. Trying to focus purely on the production of easily recyclable plastics in order to secure reuse will be very important.

The idea of a zero-waste community isn’t an entirely new thing, nor is it an impossibility. As talked about previously, Bornholm has had great success with reducing the amount of waste in their community to the point that a circular waste economy isn’t improbable.

The resources and proof is available and if wanting to avoid the drastic problems estimated to come to the environment in just over thirty years’ time, today is a better time than any to start working towards change.

 

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