Society is becoming more aware of the effect plastic is having on the planet. It is infiltrating our oceans and micro-plastics are being found in almost everything we consume.

It is worth also raising awareness of the impact plastic production is having on man-made climate change.

Plastic’s Impact on Man-Made Climate Change

Taking into consideration the impact of plastic production, transportation and disposal, as at present 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels, plastic makes a significant contribution to the current man-made climate change crisis.

A study published in May (2019) in the Nature Climate Change journal, states over the past forty years, plastic production has quadrupled. If this trend continues, the greenhouse gas emissions from plastic would reach 15% of the global carbon budget by 2050.

Every piece of plastic made has a lifecycle, beginning with its resin production, moving to its conversion to a solid form and finally its end of life.

Global life cycle GHG emissions table

The image above taken from the study, depicts the global life cycle of greenhouse gas emissions (amount of greenhouse gas emissions in Mt/mega tonnes) produced by conventional plastics in 2015 by life-cycle stage and plastic type.

As a very large majority of plastic resins come from petroleum, which requires extraction and distillation before being converted into plastic products and then transported to market, the production of plastic contributes to an excessive release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

BIER (the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable), an alliance of beverage companies who are working together to improve sustainability within the beverage sector, state that the overall carbon footprint for something as small as a 1.5 litre of bottled water (European bottle format) is estimated at 163 grams of CO2 per bottle, with carbonated drinks estimated at producing 251 grams of CO2 per bottle.

To put this into context, the average passenger vehicle emits 411 grams of CO2 per mile. It is said at present, a million plastic bottles are consumed per minute globally.

The carbon footprint of plastic continues to grow once it has served its purpose. This occurs through either dumping, recycling, incinerating or composting which all release further greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Coal Power Plant

The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) in a report released in 2019, indicate that annual emissions from the plastic lifecycle this year (2019) are similar to the amount of emissions that 189, 500 megawatt coal-fired power plants working at full capacity would release into the atmosphere. At current estimates of plastic production growth, this would increase to the equivalent of 295 coal plants and 615 coal plants by 2030 and 2050, respectively.

At these current levels, CIEL report that greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Although a 1.5 degree rise in temperature does not sound like much, this increase in temperature is highly likely to have a detrimental impact on food, water, shelter and human health, among many other things.

Five Ways To Reduce Your Plastic Carbon Footprint 

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