Plastic production is accelerating all over the world and at every stage of its life cycle, it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions from its production from fossil fuels to how it is managed and recycled as a waste product.
While the terrible effects plastic is having on our marine life has been well documented in recent years, the effect it has climate change has remained largely hidden, according to the authors of a new report by the Centre for International Environmental Law, the Guardian reports.
The report looked at the amount of greenhouse gases created in plastic production, as well as during its life cycle to when it is reused, recycled or dumped into the environment and found that the continued growth of plastic production threatens attempts to meet the Paris climate agreement and reduce greenhouse gases.
Unless the production of plastics is reversed, by 2050 plastic production will be responsible for 13% of the world’s total ‘carbon budget’.
“After the extraction of fossil fuels to produce plastic, the carbon footprint of a material which has become ubiquitous across the globe continues through the refining process, and on well past its useful life as a drinks bottle or plastic bag, through the way it is disposed of and the plastic afterlife,” the report says.
More Plastic Producing Plants Planned
The petrochemical and plastic industries, in part fuelled by the growth of fracking in the US, are planning a massive expansion in production.
A new ethane cracker being constructed by Shell in Pennsylvania and a new ethylene plant in Baytown, Texas will between them emit 3.65 million tonnes of CO2 every year, the equivalent to adding 800,000 cars to the road.
“At current levels, greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C. With the petrochemical and plastic industries planning a massive expansion in production, the problem is on track to get much worse,” the report says.
Plastic has become an inescapable part of modern life and is evidence in every part of human activity on earth from plastic bottles to car parts and clothing to construction materials.
40% of all plastic produced is for throwaway plastic packaging. By the end of 2015, 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic had been produced worldwide, two-thirds of which remains somewhere in the environment.
The authors of the report called for immediate action. The production of single-use, non-recyclable plastics must be stopped, new petrochemical infrastructure to manufacturer more plastic must not be built, the transition to zero waste communities should be speeded up and systems should be introduced to make polluters pay for cleaning up their products, known as extended producer responsibility.