Who can go about their day without using plastic? Mostly no one. Plastics are lightweight, durable, and inexpensive. The production of plastic has its origin as fossil fuels which release greenhouse gases. Not many people are aware of plastic’s impact on climate change. Some of the greatest impacts consist of the production and the disposal of plastic, microplastics. The fossil fuel building blocks of plastic are gas, oil, and coal. As decades have passed the world has become more aware of the growing issue of climate change and more specifically one of the accelerants of climate change plaguing our world, is what we call the “Plastic Crisis.”
Plastic is one component that is used in almost every aspect of our lives, from drinking bottles and cups to some automobile parts. However, one of the most used materials by humans is one of the most dangerous material to the environment. It pollutes our oceans and puts our wildlife in danger. According to the article “The plastic crisis isn’t just ugly — it’s fueling global warming” on dw.com, the plastic industry is the second largest and fastest-growing source of industrial greenhouse gas emissions, and 99% of what goes into plastic is derived from fossil fuels and is harmful because plastic is essentially a byproduct of fossil fuel extraction. This means the materials used to make plastic, like ethylene and propylene, come from oil, gas, and coal. These are three major causes of air pollution therefore making plastic its tangible counterpart. Studies show that each stage of what researchers call the “plant-life cycle” produces greenhouse gases, including its manufacturing and its disposal. In certain parts of the world like Germany and other places, plastic production has decreased by 3.1% according to dw.com which happens to be Germany’s international media outlet. Some countries, like here in America, have instituted bans on plastic bags to try to slow the considerable rise in plastic-based pollution.
Plastic litter in our water can also accelerate the effects of global warming, called the carbon sink. The oceanic carbon sink is the idea that the world’s oceans have absorbed 30-50% of the atmospheric CO2 produced since the start of the industrial era. That process essentially slowed down global warming because it prevents the carbon from reentering the atmosphere. If the plastic that is littered in the oceans were to continue to sink to the bottom, which some deep-sea divers have found to be true because there is evidence of plastic litter as far as 7 miles below sea level, it can interfere with the ocean’s ability to continue to absorb the atmospheric CO2.
Some people may think recycling can help combat the surging plastic crisis. But the fact of the matter is that plastic does not break down into the environment, it has to be essentially destroyed. Nevertheless, the process used to destroy plastic is extremely harmful to the environment. One of the process used to destroy or disintegrate plastic is by incineration, which is a huge factor of the emission of greenhouse gas. According to ciel.org “incineration leads to extremely high emissions and is the primary driver of emissions from plastic waste management. US emissions from plastic incineration in 2015 are estimated at 5.9 million metric tons of CO2e.”
Climate change is an issue that has spanned across decades. In this day and age climate change is at the highest level of awareness and concerns to slow down global warming are at an all-time high. In order to fully combat global warming there needs to be a complete policy change as well as putting more accountability on oil and gas companies. Some studies show that some gas and oil companies shifted from using oil and gas to producing plastic. We need a big effort coming from perhaps some wealthy philanthropists as well as law makers to enact stricter laws that would ban single use plastic such as plastic bags. An regulation like that would slow down global warming immensely because we, as individuals, cannot do it by ourselves.