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How does the life of plastic exacerbate climate change?
Time: 2020-5-23 9:57:18 Source:绿凯思科GETRECYCLING Author:GET营销中心 Hits:14

How does the life of plastic exacerbate climate change?


Plastic is durable, lightweight and cheap, so it has become an important part of products and packaging.


But even though plastics have so many benefits, they are still fossil fuels, according to a may 2019 report by the International Center for environmental law entitled plastics and climate: the hidden costs of plastic planets. Plastic emits greenhouse gases from cradle to grave.


Plastic & Climate Excutive Summary 2019


However, fossil fuel consumption will only increase as current policies continue to promote plastic production. According to the data of the world economic forum, about 4% - 8% of global oil consumption is related to plastics every year. If we continue to rely on plastic, by 2050, plastic will account for 20% of global oil consumption.




The "hidden costs" report shows that the transition to "zero waste" (i.e. saving resources through responsible production, consumption, reuse and material recovery without incineration or landfill) is the best way to reduce emissions. However, to achieve the goal, we need to make a huge cultural change, and we need to transform every step of the product life cycle.


We know that more than 90% of plastic products are produced by fossil fuels, and greenhouse gases will be emitted at every stage of the plastic life cycle: 1) exploitation and transportation of fossil fuels, 2) refining and manufacturing of plastics, 3) plastic waste management, 4) once plastics enter the ocean, waterways and natural landscapes, they will have a continuous impact.


Next is the really wonderful part. Let's elaborate on how plastic has a sustained impact on global climate through the above four cycles.




Problems caused by mining and transportation


The exploitation and transportation of fossil fuels, which make plastics, will produce a lot of greenhouse gases.


Emission sources include direct emissions, such as methane leakage and combustion, emissions from fuel combustion and energy consumption during oil or gas drilling, and emissions from land disturbance when clearing forests and fields for use as well pads and pipelines.


In 2015, in the United States alone, emissions from the exploitation and transportation of fossil fuels (mainly fracturing gas) for plastic production were at least 950-10.5 million tons of CO2e per year. Outside the United States, oil is the main raw material for plastic production. About 108 million tons of CO2e are produced annually by plastic production, mainly from exploitation and refining.






Refining and manufacturing to accelerate emissions


Plastic refining is one of the industries with the most intensive greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing industry, and also one of the industries with the fastest growth.


The manufacturing of plastics is energy intensive and emission intensive. A large number of emissions are generated by cracking alkanes into alkenes, polymerizing and plasticizing alkenes into plastic resins and other chemical refining processes.


According to the report, in 2015, the global emissions of ethylene (the basic material of polyethylene plastics) were 18.43-213 billion metric tons, equivalent to 45 million passenger cars in a year.






Waste management is even worse


Globally, about 40% of plastics are used as packaging. In general, packaging is for one-time use only, so it can be handled quickly. The packaging can be treated in three different ways: landfill, incineration or recycling. Each way produces greenhouse gas emissions.


The impact of landfill on climate is far lower than that of incineration. Among the three schemes, waste incineration has the greatest impact on climate. The emissions of recycling are moderate, but it will replace the new original plastics on the market, which has advantages from the perspective of emissions.


But research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows that up to 72% of plastic packaging is not recycled at all, of which 40% is landfilled and 32% is lost out of the recycling system. In other words, most plastic packaging is either not recycled at all, or is illegally dumped or mishandled after recycling.


And incineration leads to extremely high emissions, which is the main source of emissions from plastic waste management. In the coming decades, the use of incineration in plastic waste management is bound to increase dramatically.


It is estimated that the carbon dioxide emissions from plastic burning in the United States in 2015 were 5.9 million tons. According to the proportion of plastic packaging accounting for 40% of plastic demand, the global carbon dioxide emissions generated by incineration of this special type of plastic waste in 2015 totaled 16 million tons. This estimate does not account for 32% of the known unmanaged plastic packaging waste. Open burning of plastic is burning without any energy recovery, or other common and difficult to quantify practices.


from network




Plastics entering the environment still have an impact on the climate


When plastic is used up, people may intentionally throw it into the environment, sometimes accidentally. Even if the plastic is transported to a landfill, some of it is light enough to be blown into the wind and into the waterways. These unmanaged plastics will eventually enter the environment and continue to have an impact on the climate as they degrade.


The report shows that the plastic on the surface of the ocean will continuously release methane and other greenhouse gases, and the emissions of these gases will increase as the plastic further decomposes into micro plastics. Current estimates only cover one percent of the plastic on the ocean's surface. 99% of plastic emissions below the sea level are not yet accurately estimated. It is worth noting that this study shows that plastics on coastlines, riverbanks and land release greenhouse gases at a higher rate.


Plastic flow into river: www.ssyer.com


Microplastics in the ocean may also interfere with the ocean's ability to absorb and sequester carbon dioxide. Since the beginning of the industrial age, the oceans on earth have absorbed 20-40% of all man-made carbon emissions. Phytoplankton in seawater play an important role in the biological carbon pump, which captures carbon on the ocean surface and transports it to the deep sea to prevent it from re entering the atmosphere.


All over the world, these plankton are polluted by microplastics. Laboratory experiments have shown that this plastic pollution reduces the ability of plankton to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


They also believe that plastic pollution will reduce the metabolic rate, reproductive success rate and survival rate of plankton that transfers carbon to the deep sea. Research on these impacts is still in its infancy, but early indications indicate that plastic pollution may interfere with the largest natural carbon sink on earth, which should be paid close attention to immediately.


The rise of plastic carbon emission will aggravate the climate crisis


Plans to expand plastics production in the plastics and petrochemicals industries may increase the impact of plastics on the climate.


If the production, disposal and incineration of plastics continue to follow the current growth trajectory, these global emissions will reach 1.34 billion tons per year by 2030, equivalent to the emissions of 295 500 megawatt coal-fired power plants. By 2050, plastic production and incineration will emit 2.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to the emissions of 615 500 megawatt coal-fired power plants.



Emissions over the life cycle of plastics


What is the solution?


This report considers a variety of response measures to the plastic pollution crisis and evaluates their effectiveness in reducing the impact of plastic on climate, environment and health. There are priority measures that can effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the life cycle of plastics and have positive benefits for social or environmental goals. These include:


Stop the production and use of disposable plastics;


Stop developing new oil, gas and petrochemical infrastructure;


• promote the transition to zero waste communities;


Implementation of the expanded producer responsibility system as an important part of the circular economy;


Adopt and implement ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors, including plastic production.


Other complementary interventions can reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics and reduce the impact of plastics on the environment and / or health, but cannot achieve the emission reductions needed to achieve climate goals.


For example, the use of renewable energy can reduce the energy emissions related to plastics, but it can not solve the massive emissions generated in the plastic production process, nor can it stop the emissions caused by plastic waste and pollution.


What's worse, low target strategies and wrong solutions (such as bio based plastics and biodegradable plastics) can't solve the problem, and may also aggravate the greenhouse gas impact of the plastic life cycle, as well as other environmental and health impacts.


In short, any solution that can reduce the production and use of plastics is a powerful strategy to address the climate impact of the plastic life cycle. These solutions require the urgent support of policy makers and philanthropists, as well as the actions of global grassroots movements.


Only by stopping the expansion of petrochemical and plastic production and leaving fossil fuels underground, can we most reliably and effectively reduce the impact of plastic life cycle on climate.


The report includes recommendations for policymakers, governments, non-profit organizations, funders and other stakeholders to help stop plastic carbon emissions from expanding.


The most effective advice is simple: reduce the production and use of plastics immediately. Stopping the expansion of petrochemical and plastic production and keeping fossil fuels underground is a key factor to solve the climate crisis.


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