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No Time To Waste: Plastic Pollution and the Climate Crisis

There is no time to waste: plastic pollution and climate crisis

Disposable plastics are everywhere, not only on supermarket shelves, but also in the most remote places on the planet. Half of all plastics produced are designed to be used only once, and packaging is currently the largest market for these single-use plastics. These single-use plastics are wasting resources, polluting our environment and exacerbating the climate crisis.

Plastic pollution

These plastics are problematic not only because they constitute a large waste stream that ends up being landfilled or incinerated, but also because they often end up in the natural environment. Disposable plastics are one of the most common items found in the earth’s beaches and oceans. In fact, 80% of European beach waste is plastic, and 8,000,000 tons of plastic end up in the world's oceans every year! This kind of plastic waste will not only cause devastating effects on wild animals through accidental ingestion or entanglement, but also the chemicals in this kind of plastic will easily leak. These chemicals pollute all areas of the environment (air, water, and soil), accumulate in the food chain, and release toxic additives or concentrate additional toxic chemicals in the environment, making them available for direct or indirect human contact.

These are just plastics that we can see! Tiny plastic parts called microplastics are also entering our water system, and more than 236,000 ingestible microplastics are discarded in the ocean every year. 167,000 tons of plastic pellets enter the environment every year, making these plastic building blocks another important source of ocean and beach pollution—especially near industrial plastic sites.

Plastic pollution undoubtedly has a huge impact on our natural environment, but it also exacerbates climate change!

Plastic pollution and climate

Our oceans are the largest natural carbon sink on the planet-they do absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere! However, plastics that pollute the oceans are blocking our oceans and reducing their ability to act as carbon sinks. On the contrary, sunlight is heating plastic and causing powerful greenhouse gases to be released into the ocean and atmosphere-reversing the ocean's healing power!

Smaller plastics (whether they come from the degradation of larger plastics or microplastics added directly to the product) are also of no avail-the reluctant ingestion of microplastics by plankton can have a huge impact on the health of our planet. These tiny microbes are responsible for storing carbon deep in the ocean and have been doing this for thousands of years-if microplastics threaten these populations, this will further exacerbate uncontrolled climate change.

Plastics affect the entire value chain-from production to consumption, to environmental pollution. This is detailed in blog #4...

No time to waste

Plastic pollution is clearly causing serious environmental damage to our planet-not only tangible, but also intangible. We need to shut down the tap by reducing the production of virgin plastic, redesigning products, and incentivizing reuse systems (such as deposit return programs).

Before we rethink our relationship with plastic, we will never get rid of it-but there are solutions to plastic pollution. Responding to climate change means adopting plastics, not just how to deal with them, but also how they are produced. Learn more about plastic production and climate change in our next blog.

Learn more about our work on plastics on the Rethink Plastic Alliance and Break Free From Plastic web pages.

Read more about the impact of plastics on our climate: here.

Next → Plastic production and fossil gas

About the latest post

Italian company found illegal dumping of plastic and other municipal waste in Tunisia-03/03/2021 Why do we need a bloody European declaration-01/02/2021 Press release: Just Transition Fund gets rid of false waste management solutions, but will directly provide funds to round? -10/12/2020

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