【Climate Innovation Stories】My actions become another’s problem! -plastics and climate change
Writer: Minal Jain
Did you know that your “take away plastic container “ can displace someone from their home?
Our climate and natural systems are changing because of rising temperatures. Temperatures rise due to an increase in greenhouse gases. Plastics contribute a lot towards those greenhouse gases. And now we are slowly beginning to understand the role of Plastics in Climate Change.
Plastics originate as fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases from cradle to grave.
Extraction and transportation: The main components of plastic are Natural Gas and Oil. Natural gas and oil are fossil fuels. These are extracted from the earth through fracking. Extraction and transportation of these fossil fuels is a carbon-intensive activity. Land disturbance also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions associated with extraction.
Refining and manufacturing: Plastics refining is also greenhouse-gas intensive. In 2015, emissions from manufacturing ethylene, the building block for polyethylene plastics, contributed as much carbon dioxide as 45 million passenger vehicles emit during one year.
Disposing: Usually, plastics are used for a single time, so there’s a quick turnaround to disposal. Incineration is one way of Plastic Waste Disposal. Waste incineration has the largest climate impact of the three options (the other two are landfill and recycling) by releasing huge amounts of GHGs.
Finally: Plastics can break down into smaller pieces, called microplastics, through biodegradation or exposure to the sun, heat, or water. These microplastics scatter across the globe, even to the depths of the ocean. Planktons in the oceans remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, evidence suggests that plankton are ingesting ever-greater quantities of microplastics. So producing more microplastics could degrade plankton’s ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Our increased use of plastic = Increased manufacturing of plastic = Increased disposal of plastic = Increased release of Greenhouse Gases = Increased temperatures = Increased climate changes = Increased destruction of species and habitats and living spaces.
So as we sweat profusely and wait for winters, while walking away from that restaurant with a plastic bag full of plastic containers, think about the impact your plastic take-away has on people who live far away. Can we really turn a blind eye while others bear the consequences of our actions?
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