How plastics contribute to Climate Change
They generate heat-trapping gases at every stage of their life cycle.
“When people think about plastics, they really don’t tend to think about the beginning of its life cycle. And the beginning of its life cycle really begins with oil and gas development,” said Matt Kelso, manager of data and technology at FracTracker Alliance.
Oil, gas, and coal are the fossil-fuel building blocks of plastics. Natural gas and oil can be extracted from the earth through fracking. Companies drill wells into the ground until they hit a rock layer, then they turn 90 degrees and drill horizontally. Injecting sand, chemicals, or water breaks up the rock to release gas and oil, which are transported to other facilities via pipelines, trains, and trucks. Extraction and transportation of these fossil fuels is a carbon-intensive activity.
Globally, about 40% of plastics are used as packaging. Usually, packaging is meant for a single use, so there’s a quick turnaround to disposal. This packaging can be processed in three different ways: landfill, incineration, or recycling.
Waste incineration has the largest climate impact of the three options. Based on projections from the World Energy Council, if plastics production and incineration increase as expected, greenhouse gas emissions will increase to 49 million metric tons by 2030 and 91 million metric tons by 2050.
Recycling is a different beast with an entirely different set of problems. Compared to the low costs of virgin materials, recycled plastics are high cost with low commercial value. This makes recycling profitable only rarely, so it requires considerable government subsidies.
Research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests that only 2% of plastics are recycled into products with the same function. Another 8% are “downcycled” to something of lower quality. The rest is landfilled, leaked into the environment, or incinerated.
For every phase of the plastics life cycle, there are ways to reduce emissions. But it may take systemic shifts to slow the growth of plastics production.
Retrieved from Yale, Climate Convention at: https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2019/08/how-plastics-contribute-to-climate-change/
Our presence in the Climate Change workshop that took place on 21 November 2019, responding to the invitation of GlobalShapers Athens Hub, gave us the opportunity to highlight the major impact of plastic pollution to climate change. We had the opportunity to meet great organizations with the same visions & missions with us and to present our actions, carried out throughout this year.
At the same time, similar events took place around the world as part of the 24 Hours of Reality initiative, with the support of former US Vice President Al Gore. For each participant, worldwide, the One Tree Planted international initiative will plant a tree in an area that needs it. In Greece, in collaboration with We4All, we will plant 1 extra tree for each event participant on 14 December.
We can be part of the change,our actions have impact and together we can pressurize governments and businesses to implement more drastically measures to slow down climate change. Follow us for more!