Everyday plastics emit greenhouse gases, study reveals | News

04 August, 2018, 17:41 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • Plastics washed up on the shore in Hawaii

Plastic pollution at Kamilo Point, Big Island in Hawai earlier this year.

Scientists writing in the journal PLOS One said Wednesday that plastics emit the greenhouse gases methane and ethylene when they are exposed to sunlight and degrade.

Taiwan started recycling plastic more than a decade ago and today it boasts more than 70 percent recycling rates, according to the Environmental Protection Administration.

Their durability and low cost makes them attractive even though they are known to release a variety of chemicals during degradation - endangering organisms and ecosystems.

Plastic water bottles, shopping bags, industrial plastics and food containers were all tested as part of the study.

Greenpeace senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge, said:"Ocean plastic pollution has already been described as a "toxic time-bomb" by the United Nations, and this new study suggests that when plastic degrades in sunlight, it emits greenhouse gases which are harmful to our climate". However, the most widely produced and discarded synthetic polymer in the world is polyethylene.

Past countermeasures against climate change did not incorporate the impact of greenhouse gases originating in plastic waste in the environment. "With time, these defects increase the surface area available for further photo-chemical degradation and therefore contribute to an acceleration of the rate of gas production".

Moreover, it is known that smaller particles, called 'microplastics, ' are ultimately created in the environment which could further speed up the production of gas.

"Considering the amounts of plastic washing ashore on our coastlines and the amount of plastic exposed to ambient conditions, our finding provides further evidence that we need to stop plastic production at the source, especially single use plastic", said lead author Sarah-Jeanne Royer, a postdoctoral research fellow at UH's International Pacific Research Center. "Based on the rates measured in this study and the amount of plastic produced worldwide CH4 [methane] production by plastics is likely to be an insignificant component of the global CH4 budget", they write.

Greenhouse gases directly influence climate change, affecting sea level and global temperatures along with ecosystem health on land and in the ocean. Karl says plastic sources are not yet accounted for when assessing greenhouse gases in the environment, and those numbers may be significant.

And production of plastics is set to double over the next 20 years.


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