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Is plastic pollution causing climate change?


Global warming and plastic pollution are inextricably linked.

Plastic produces greenhouse gasses that are responsible for climate change at every step of its lifecycle, and it is built to last, often taking hundreds of years to break down.

Human usage of plastic has continued to grow year on year since we first began producing it on mass in the 1950s and continues to snowball now, even as we see the damaging effects it is having on our planet and human health.

The effects of climate change that scientists predicted would happen are now happening before our eyes, including melting sea ice, accelerated sea-level rise, and intense heat waves.

But how is the human obsession with plastic linked to these issues? Let’s find out.

Why is plastic pollution a climate issue?

Whilst discarded plastic products and packaging are harmful to our environment, wildlife, and even human health; it is the material’s production process that is posing the most serious threat to our climate.

Since plastic was first mass-produced in the 1950s, demand for the convenient and flexible material has increased year on year, particularly for throwaway, single-use plastic packaging.

The main cause of climate change is burning fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and the plastic industry is one of the most greenhouse gas-intensive industries in the manufacturing sector.

How damaging is plastic pollution?

Globally, we now produce around 380 million tonnes of plastic every year. Manufacturing this amount of plastic produces about 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses. 

If plastic production keeps increasing at its current rate, it is estimated that by 2050 this figure could rise to 2.8 billion tonnes.

According to National Geographic, less than 9% of the plastic we throw away is recycled. That means that the rest of it is sat around polluting our planet, releasing toxins and greenhouse gasses into our environment, and poisoning our wildlife and humans too.

Does plastic pollution cause climate change?

Every step of the plastic production process produces greenhouse gasses responsible for climate change. Greenhouse gasses are produced during the extraction and transportation of the fossil fuels used to make plastic, as well as during the refining and manufacturing processes used to produce it.

It’s not just plastic’s manufacturing processes that are contributing to climate change though. Every day around 8 million pieces of plastic enter our oceans and according to WWF, this figure is on course to double by 2030. 

As the huge quantities of plastic in our oceans begin to break down, the sun and heat that they are exposed to cause them to release further greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

Our oceans are also our planet’s largest natural carbon sink and they play a critical part in absorbing man-made carbon to protect our climate. The sea is thought to have absorbed up to 40% of man-made carbon since the industrial era. However, research has found that plastic pollution may be disrupting the ocean’s natural carbon storage processes.

Why is climate change a serious problem?

Globally, we are beginning to experience the devastating effects of climate change first-hand.

Rising temperatures and changing climate patterns are causing a myriad of problems for our health and everyday lives.

Some of the negative consequences of global warming include:

  1. Heatwaves
  2. Wildfires
  3. Vector-borne diseases
  4. Hurricanes
  5. Floods
  6. Droughts

All these natural disasters caused by climate change can have serious implications for human health, water security, agriculture and food, and economies around the world. They are also causing the decline and extinction of many animal species and damaging our delicate ecosystem.

What can we do to reduce plastic pollution?

If we want to protect our planet for future generations then we all need to begin making small lifestyle changes to fight back against global warming and plastic pollution.

This starts with shopping consciously and avoiding plastic products and those packaged in plastic packaging wherever possible. Investing in eco-friendly and plastic-free products helps to reduce your carbon footprint and puts pressure on businesses to adopt more eco-friendly practices.

Other ways you can help to reduce global warming and plastic pollution include:

  1. Always check if plastic can be recycled before throwing it away.
  2. Buy products made from recycled or plastic-free materials.
  3. Reuse, repurpose or donate where possible.
  4. Only buy what you need.
  5. Make eco-friendly buying decisions.
  6. Shop at zero-waste, refill shops.
  7. Use reusable coffee cups and water bottles.
  8. Buy fresh and unpackaged cooking ingredients.

Learn more about how Nereus London is helping to fight against plastic pollution.

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