Why Plastic Needs To Be Used Very Sparingly

plastic bottles lined up on a counter
Image by PublicDomainPictures 

Researchers have revealed that the impact of plastics on climate and health is bigger than originally thought due to the increased use of coal for process heat, electricity, and as a raw material in production.

Plastics are useful, cheap, and extremely popular. Global demand for them has quadrupled in the last forty years and is expected to continue to rise, with negative consequences for the environment and human health.

The public is aware of the environmental harm caused by plastics, particularly at the end of their life cycle, such as when they release greenhouse gases and air pollutants when burned, or pollute water and soil in the form of microplastics.

Production Of Plastics and Climate

Research into the global environmental impact of plastics has also focused primarily on the disposal phase. There are few studies about the production of plastics, which also affects the climate and air quality. However, such an in-depth analysis requires detailed information about supply chains and processes in order to trace the relevant material and energy flows.

“So far, the simplistic assumption has been that the production of plastics requires roughly the same amount of fossil resources as the amount of raw materials contained in plastics—particularly petroleum,” says Livia Cabernard, a doctoral student at the Institute of Science, Technology and Policy (ISTP) at ETH Zurich. The problem here is that the relative significance of production versus disposal has been significantly underestimated.

Through painstaking detective work, the researchers analyzed the climate and health impact of the global plastics supply chain over a 20-year period.

In a study recently published in Nature Sustainability, the researchers reveal that the global carbon footprint of plastics has doubled since 1995, reaching 2.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) in 2015. This represents 4.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is more than previously thought. Over the same period, the global health footprint of plastics from fine particulate air pollution has increased by 70%, causing approximately 2.2 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) in 2015.

For their study, the team determined the greenhouse gas emissions generated across the life cycle of plastics—from fossil resource extraction, to processing into product classes and use, through to end of life, including recycling, incineration, and landfill.

The researchers identify booming plastics production in coal-based, newly industrialized countries such as China, India, Indonesia, and South Africa as the main cause of the growing carbon footprint of plastics. The energy and process heat needed for the production of plastics in these countries comes primarily from the combustion of coal. A small amount of coal is also used as a raw material for plastics.

Coal-based Emissions From Plastics

“The plastics-related carbon footprint of China’s transport sector, Indonesia’s electronics industry and India’s construction industry has increased more than 50-fold since 1995,” explains Cabernard. Globally, coal-based emissions from plastics production have quadrupled since 1995 and now account for nearly half of the global carbon footprint of plastics.


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

When coal is burned, it produces extremely fine particles that accumulate in the air. Such particulate matter is very harmful to health and can cause asthma, bronchitis, and cardiovascular disease. As more and more coal is used for process heat and electricity, and as a raw material in plastics production, the negative consequences for health are also increasing.

In contrast to earlier estimates, which assumed the use of equal amounts of fuel and raw materials in the production of plastics, the researchers have now proven that twice as much fossil energy is burned for plastics production as is contained as a raw material in plastics.

This affects the assessment of the environmental consequences. “Even in a worst-case scenario in which all plastics are incinerated, their production accounts for the lion’s share of total greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions,” says Cabernard. The overall production phase of plastics is responsible for the vast majority (96%) of the carbon footprint of plastics.

There had previously only been one publication that examined the global carbon footprint of plastics production. “This study underestimated greenhouse gas emissions, however, because it did not take into account the increasing dependence on coal due to the outsourcing of production processes to coal-based countries,” Cabernard explains.

The researchers used a new method for their study that Cabernard had previously developed in her doctoral thesis under the supervision of Stephan Pfister, senior scientist at the ISTP, and Stefanie Hellweg, professor of ecological systems design at the Institute of Environmental Engineering. This approach involves a multi-regional, input-output analysis that accurately maps global value chains from production to consumption across industries, countries and regions.

Source: ETH Zurich, Original Study

Related Books

 

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall

0465055680by Mark W. Moffett
If a chimpanzee ventures into the territory of a different group, it will almost certainly be killed. But a New Yorker can fly to Los Angeles--or Borneo--with very little fear. Psychologists have done little to explain this: for years, they have held that our biology puts a hard upper limit--about 150 people--on the size of our social groups. But human societies are in fact vastly larger. How do we manage--by and large--to get along with each other? In this paradigm-shattering book, biologist Mark W. Moffett draws on findings in psychology, sociology and anthropology to explain the social adaptations that bind societies. He explores how the tension between identity and anonymity defines how societies develop, function, and fail. Surpassing Guns, Germs, and Steel and Sapiens, The Human Swarm reveals how mankind created sprawling civilizations of unrivaled complexity--and what it will take to sustain them.   Available On Amazon

 

Environment: The Science Behind the Stories

by Jay H. Withgott, Matthew Laposata
0134204883Environment: The Science behind the Stories is a best seller for the introductory environmental science course known for its student-friendly narrative style, its integration of real stories and case studies, and its presentation of the latest science and research. The 6th Edition features new opportunities to help students see connections between integrated case studies and the science in each chapter, and provides them with opportunities to apply the scientific process to environmental concerns. Available On Amazon

 

Feasible Planet: A guide to more sustainable living

by Ken Kroes
0995847045Are you concerned about the state of our planet and hope that governments and corporations will find a sustainable way for us to live? If you do not think about it too hard, that may work, but will it? Left on their own, with drivers of popularity and profits, I am not too convinced that it will. The missing part of this equation is you and me. Individuals who believe that corporations and governments can do better. Individuals who believe that through action, we can buy a bit more time to develop and implement solutions to our critical issues. Available On Amazon

 

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.


  

More Articles By This Author

You May Also Like

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

INNERSELF VOICES

Lunar eclipse, May 12, 2022
Astrological Overview and Horoscope: May 23 - 29, 2022
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
05 21 rewilding the imagination in dangerous times 5362430 1920
Rewilding the Imagination in Dangerous Times
by Natureza Gabriel Kram
In a world that often seems intent on destroying itself, I find myself curating beauty -- the kind…
group of multi-racial individuals standing for a group photo
Seven Ways You Can Show Respect to Your Diverse Team (Video)
by Kelly McDonald
Respect is profoundly meaningful, but costs nothing to give. Here are ways you can demonstrate (and…
elephant walking in front of a setting sun
Astrological Overview and Horoscope: May 16 - 22, 2022
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
photo of Leo Buscaglia from cover of his book: Living, Loving and Learning
How to Change Someone's Life in a Few Seconds
by Joyce Vissell
My life was changed dramatically when someone took that second to point out my beauty.
a composite photograph of a total lunar eclipse
Astrological Overview and Horoscope: May 9 - 15, 2022
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
05 08 developing compassionate thinking 2593344 completed
Developing Compassionate Thinking Towards Self and Others
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
When people speak of compassion, they mostly are referring to having compassion for others... for…
a man writing a letter
Writing the Truth and Allowing the Emotions to Flow
by Barbara Berger
Writing things down is a good way to practice truth telling.
young girl with three huge question marks in front of her
Overcoming Confusion and Indecision
by Jude Bijou
Life is a series of endless big and small decisions. What to wear, whether to look for another job,…
Horoscope Week: December 10 to 16, 2018
Horoscope Week: December 10 to 16, 2018
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
Getting in Touch With, and Becoming Friends With, Fear
Getting in Touch With, and Becoming Friends With, Fear
by Marie T. Russell
Some of our fears are so slight, or come up so rarely, that we ignore them for the most part. Yet,…

MOST READ

finding what you are looking for 5 25
Use Horary Astrology to Find What You Lost
by Alphee Lavoie
There has always been a lot of controversy among astrologers as to what time (and even location) to…
rebuilding environment 4 14
How Native Birds Are Returning To New Zealand’s Restored Urban Forests
by Elizabeth Elliot Noe, Lincoln University et al
Urbanisation, and the destruction of habitat it entails, is a major threat to native bird…
The Story Of Suffering And Death Behind Ireland’s Abortion Ban And Subsequent Legalization
The Story Of Suffering And Death Behind Ireland’s Abortion Ban And Subsequent Legalization
by Gretchen E. Ely, University of Tennessee
If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the…
how much sleep you need 4 7
How Much Sleep You Really Need
by Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian, University of Cambridge, et al
Most of us struggle to think well after a poor night’s sleep – feeling foggy and failing to perform…
trusting societies are happy 4 14
Why Trusting Societies Are Overall Happier
by enjamin Radcliff, University of Notre Dame
Human beings are social animals. This means, almost as a matter of logical necessity, that humans’…
benefits of lemmon water 4 14
Will Lemon Water Detox Or Energize You?
by Evangeline Mantzioris, University of South Australia
If you believe anecdotes online, drinking lukewarm water with a splash of lemon juice is…
group of multi-racial individuals standing for a group photo
Seven Ways You Can Show Respect to Your Diverse Team (Video)
by Kelly McDonald
Respect is profoundly meaningful, but costs nothing to give. Here are ways you can demonstrate (and…
economy 4 14
5 Things That Economists Know, But Sound Wrong To Most Other People
by Renaud Foucart, Lancaster University
A curious thing about our profession is that when we academic economists largely agree with each…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.