Plastic and Climate Change

No. More. Rubbish. Excuses. was written by our Founder and CEO, Martin Dorey. It looks at ways we can reduce our waste. It also discusses why we must do it now. This blog, pulled from the pages of Martin’s book, focuses on the correlation between plastic and climate change and what we can do as individuals to help save the planet. 

Ever since the #2minutebeachclean became a thing, in 2013, I’ve been wondering how big the plastic crisis would become. First it was how plastic affected my local beach, tourism and our health and wellbeing locally. Next it was how plastic affects wildlife. Then it was how plastic affects our food. Now it’s about how plastic affects our climate. 

Once you understand the scale of it, you can start to put the pieces in place to make up the bigger picture. And that’s when things start to get more than a little frightening. If you’re anything like me, however, you won’t give up. You’ll allow this information to fuel the fire of resolve, because to do anything else would be to admit defeat.

PLASTIC: THE BIGGER PICTURE

  • Plastic is just one small part of our planet’s problems
  • Plastic is a symptom of mass consumerism
  • Consumerism is using up resources at a massive rate
  • Plastic creates climate change emissions at every stage in its life cycle
  • Transporting plastic waste creates climate emissions
  • Plastic is climate change
  • We need to stop depending on plastic.

In May 2019 the Center for International Environmental Law released a report – the first of its kind that deals with plastic and climate change – that suggested plastic, throughout its lifecycle, could contribute up to 10-13% of the global carbon dioxide budget by 2050.

According to the report, the production and incineration of plastic in 2019 was due to produce more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, which is equal to the emissions from 189 five-hundred-megawatt coal power plants working at full capacity.

By 2050, they say, if production continues as predicted (and planned) the amount will increase to the equivalent of 615 Coal Plants, producing 2.80 Gt of greenhouse gasses.

Plastic refining, the report says, is among the most greenhouse gas-intensive industries in the manufacturing sector – and the fastest growing, with the manufacture of plastic is being both energy intense and emissions intensive in its own right, producing significant emissions through the chemical refining processes.

Great! How could we have ignored that? We’ve been so concerned with the oceans that we’ve forgotten, almost, the impact of it all, before it’s even got to the ocean.

What this means is that it’s more, much more than just entangled seals and dolphins.

The report from CIEL follows on from a different report, from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2018, that researchers had discovered, unexpectedly, that the most common plastics, when exposed to sunlight, produce the greenhouse gases methane and ethylene. Polyethylene (LDPE), used in shopping bags, is the most produced and discarded synthetic polymer globally and was found to be the most prolific emitter of both gases.

The team also found that “the emission rate of the gases from virgin pellets of LDPE increased during a 212-day experiment” and that “LDPE debris found in the ocean also emitted greenhouse gases when exposed to sunlight.”

The study also raised concerns about microplastic disabling the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon. At the surface, microscopic plants (phytoplankton) and animals (zooplankton) transfer carbon to the deep ocean. “These plankton are being contaminated with microplastics and microfibres, which lab tests suggest reduce their ability to fix carbon through photosynthesis, perhaps also reducing their metabolic rates, reproductive success and survival rates.”

So if you ever needed a reason to choose natural fibres over nylon, carry a water bottle or refuse a straw this is it. And while it might seem to be too big or too difficult an issue to solve, it is one that we CAN do something about.

WHY PLASTIC IS THE PERFECT ECO MISSION

Reading all this, and the rest of this book, you might be forgiven for thinking that the world’s problems are insurmountable. You might not be able to replant the rainforests or refreeze the arctic tundra. But you can tackle plastic in your own life. And that’s the beauty of it. It’s real and it’s tangible and you can do something about it. Right here, right now. 

There’s no need to feel helpless either, because you’ll be able to see how much of what you do matters. It’s our problem and we have to fix it. And, in fixing it, we’ll help to solve all kinds of other problems too. 

Good luck.

And thank you for making a start. Now the real work begins.

  1. Recycle more.
  2. Eat sustainably caught fish.
  3. Eat less meat.
  4. Cook more and avoid pre-packaged meals.
  5. Buy clothes second hand or ethical, in natural materials.
  6. Get outside and enjoy nature more. It’s free.
  7. Spend your money on experiences, not things.
  8. Buy, if you must buy, from ethical businesses. But question its integrity first.
  9. Buy local, fresh, sustainable and packaging free, if you can.
  10. Understand how much of what you do matters. It does.

NO MORE EXCUSES?

REDIRECT YOUR INVESTMENTS: If you have any kind of savings, investments or pensions, they may, ultimately, invest in fossil fuels and, by association, the plastics industry, so supporting them in their work. By divesting from these kinds of industries you can help to pull the rug from underneath them, remove part of their funding and send a very clear message that you do not condone their practices.

Has this article has awakened your inner eco-activist and you’d like to know more? You can buy Martin’s book No. More. Rubbish. Excuses. from our Beach Clean Shop by clicking here. Now is the time to act, not the time for excuses!  

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