Plastic Free July Series, Item 2 - Plastic War on Climate Change
Posted by Chloe Healy on July 17, 2018 at 02:24 PM
We will be posting one article a week in July around ways you can reduce the amount of plastic in your day-to-day life! Let us know how you're getting on on Twitter by using the hashtag #SickOfPlastic.
Written by Chloe Healy
If you are reading this article today and/or taking part in our Plastic Free July challenge, then it’s fair to say that you are already aware of the serious challenges plastic pollution poses to human health and the environment. But do we really understand why its a problem, what exactly makes plastic so harmful and how it is linked to climate change?
Let’s begin by exploring where exactly plastic comes from and how it is made. From the get go plastic is harmful for our environment - derived from fossil fuels such as crude oil and gas and needing further fossil fuels to be extracted from the ground. Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth to extract oil or gas from shale rock. It requires large volumes of water that need to be transported on site at a significant environmental cost. Recent findings show that the water used for one single well could supply almost 10,000 Europeans with water for a year! In addition, fracking brings many toxic chemicals to the land surface, contaminating local water supplies and severely polluting our air. Overall, fracking is a high-risk activity, greatly impacting our climate, wildlife, oceans and food chain.
Plastic and the Oil Industry
So yes, considering how plastic is made, this means that all plastic producers own or are owned by oil and gas companies.
But did you know that in order for the oil industry to produce the yearly 8.3 metric billions tonnes of plastics it is currently producing, small rural communities where oil fracking more than often occurs are exploited by these big corporations and left with polluted land, rivers and air, posing a direct risk to their health? And the worst part? Despite countless reports indicating the negative implications of fracking both to human health and our surrounding environment - big gas and oil companies are quite literally building a larger more plastic future as you read this! Rates of plastic production and fracking are continuing to accelerate at an alarming rate. In 2014, 6% of global oil consumption was used in the production of plastic and by 2050 this is set to reach 20% of total oil consumption. By 2020 the value of the global plastics market is estimated to be valued at a monstrous $654.3 billion.
What makes plastic an indispensable part of our daily lives?
Then back to the actual process - plastic is made by breaking down components to make synthetic polymers. These polymers are lightweight, highly durable and can be easily moulded into any shape, giving plastic its famous properties that mean it can be quickly and cheaply mass produced. The plastic industry creates billions of tonnes of carbon pollution every year, contributing substantially to climate change - and that is before we even consider the transportation and disposal of the plastic. Since the polymers are so durable it takes anywhere between 500-1000 years to break down. Given this and the fact that plastic was only invented in the early 1900’s, it’s evident that every single piece of plastic ever made, still exists!
So where does plastic end up?
Finally, as our main use for plastic is becoming far more single use driven, it’s imperative that we take a more in-depth look of what happens to plastic after we dispose of it and the impact this is currently having on our environment and how this is contributing to climate change. Currently only around 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled and an additional 12% has been incinerated. This process of burning plastics releases more toxic chemicals into our atmosphere, having a significant negative impact on public health. Then the rest of plastic generally ends up either mixed into our landfill waste or polluting our oceans and coastlines. Plastics that end up in landfill, even those that are deemed recyclable, when left sitting in such an environment that lacks oxygen and experiences hot temperatures – creates a pressure that causes the plastic to leak toxic chemicals from its structure. If present rates continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills – amounting to being 35,000 times heavier than the Empire State Building.
Furthermore, of the 50% of plastic produced that is single-use plastics, a full 32% of this is tossed into our oceans every year - equivalent to the pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute! More worryingly, this figure is set to rise exponentially by 2050. Not only does this threaten marine life, but also by releasing harmful toxins into the ocean as plastic breaks down, it is increasing our oceans carbon storage significantly. This is then leading to a dangerous build-up that is making our oceans warmer, causing ice caps to melt and water levels to rise. All of this is then triggering more extreme weather conditions to occur and contributing significantly to climate change.
So the next time you reach for your reusable coffee cup or metal straw and choose to refuse plastic this month - remember you are not only helping to prevent plastic pollution but you are also making a conscious decision to not support oil and gas corporations and are actively taking a step towards fighting climate change!
This month, at Sick of Plastic Ireland we encourage you to join us in supporting The Waste Reduction Bill to ensure our country is doing everything it can to #beatplasticpollution. Visit this part of the website to learn more.