Climate Change and Plastic Pollution

During the past 12 months, plastic has been a common topic in the news, highlighting the overwhelming pollution crisis it's causing for our planet. We've all seen the reports on the link between climate change and plastic pollution.

Now, as 2020 begins, scientists are warning time is running out in the ongoing battle against climate change. According to the latest statistics, the human race is polluting the ocean with around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic every year.

We're causing serious damage to our ecosystem and marine life - and it's fast becoming irreparable. The threat has become so serious that we MUST change our habits. Research shows our actions to combat plastic pollution over the next decade will determine the health of the ocean for the next 10,000 years.

Plastic ocean

© Richard Carey / Adobe Stock

 

Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gas emissions created throughout the plastic life cycle are gradually increasing the global temperature. The problem is being caused by the continued manufacture of single-use and disposable plastics.

Greenhouse gases are emitted during the process of fossil fuel extraction and transport, plastic manufacture and refining and plastic waste management. Until recently, the least understood of the negative effects on the environment was what happened after the plastic was discarded.

The immediate impact on nature was well documented - such as the fact an estimated one million seabirds and 100,000 sea creatures died every year from being tangled in or ingesting plastic. Studies on baby sea turtles showed that eating plastic had killed 40% of them.

Every year, Britain disposes of an estimated 1.7 million tonnes of waste plastic and the United States disposes of 38 million tonnes. By far the biggest culprit is single-use plastic packaging. The amount of plastic pollution on the planet has become more visible as the years go by.

 

Climate change

A new study led by Sarah-Jeanne Royer, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii's Centre of Microbial Oceanography, suggests that plastic dumped in the ocean may be contributing to climate change.

The plastic is exposed to solar radiation over a long period, due to the fact it breaks down extremely slowly, taking hundreds of years. The slow degradation of plastic is a previously unrecognised source of greenhouse gases, according to the study.

The more plastic that is dumped, the more serious the problem will become. In addition, the most prevalent plastic in the ocean (low-density polyethylene) releases the greenhouse gas methane, according to Royer's research. When the plastic is floating on top of the water and exposed directly to sunlight, it releases more methane, ethane and ethylene.

This causes increased damage to the environment and contributes further to climate change, Royer concludes. If the volume of plastic dumped in the ocean continues to grow, so will the number of harmful gases released into the atmosphere.

 

Plankton

Another consequence of ocean plastic is the effect it has on the plankton - the minute organisms at the bottom of the ocean food chain. Plankton plays an integral role in the ocean, capturing carbon dioxide on the surface and distributing it to the depths, where it can be stored for centuries.

There are two types of plankton - phytoplankton and zooplankton. Both are important to the ecosystem of the ocean. However, growing evidence suggests even the plankton, like every other marine species, are ingesting increasing quantities of micro plastic debris.

This can have a potentially significant impact on their metabolism, mortality rate and reproductive success. Research in this field is in its infancy, but it has already raised questions about the long-term effects of the micro plastics on the way the ocean stores and absorbs carbon dioxide.

 

Fossil fuel

The sea provides the largest natural sink for greenhouse gases. Without them, the impact on the climate of fossil fuel burning would increase. The ocean has absorbed between 30% and 50% of atmospheric anthropogenic carbon dioxide since the industrial era.

If the ocean could no longer do this, there would be a greater accumulation of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases in our atmosphere. The gases that had previously been absorbed by plankton would, therefore, contribute to climate change in the future.

Research claims that if we continue to discard plastic at our present rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. Scientists say we can't wait 30 years for this to happen - we must take action now. However, opinion in the scientific community is divided on whether it's already too late to reverse some of the damage.

Solent Plastics is a responsible supplier of plastic storage products – we too are passionate about saving our planet! Many of our containers are made from recycled plastic and are built to last a lifetime.

We also supply a range of recycling waste bins to help businesses, organisations and schools with their own recycling initiatives. For further information on our products, email sales@solentplastics.co.uk or call 01794 514478.