We know plastic is clogging up our oceans, and spoiling our towns and countryside. It has even been suggested there could be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.* And we know that more and more animals are being found dead with their stomachs full of plastic.
But plastic is also accelerating climate change. Plastic is one of the most greenhouse gas intensive industries, and the fastest growing. Plastics produce greenhouse gases at every stage of their production cycle, from the drilling of the fossil fuels they’re made from (which increasingly come from fracking), to the greenhouse gases it releases as it is incinerated or slowly decomposes – a process that releases methane. According to a recent report by the Centre for International Environmental Law:
“If the production, disposal, and incineration of plastic continue on their present growth trajectory, by 2030, these global emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year—equivalent to more than 295 five-hundred-megawatt coal plants. By 2050, plastic production and incineration could emit 2.8 gigatons of CO2 per year, releasing as much emissions as 615 five-hundred-megawatt coal plants.”
Supporting anti-plastic campaigning is thus something important we can do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, as scientists are telling us we have to. Recycling can be improved, and is definitely worth doing, but it still requires energy and produces CO2: we should only recycle where we cannot reduce our dependence on carbon-intensive production in the first place. And though local recycling services are among the best in the country, existing systems are not able to cope with the scale of the problem. Our waste is contributing to the formation of vast, illegal plastic dumps in countries like Malaysia.
* Note: this is obviously only an estimate, based on assumptions that might be questioned. But that a plausible methodology suggests this is even on the cards, whether by 2050, 2060 or whenever, should be deeply shocking. Of course, should fish populations collapse, as another effect of climate change, the statistic would be rendered somewhat moot.