We know that plastic pollution is a problem so rampant that if we don’t drastically act we can expect to see more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish by 2050. However, a new study by the Center of International Environmental Law has revealed that the plastic industry is the second largest and fastest-growing source of industrial greenhouse gas emissions, and 99% of what goes into plastic is derived from fossil fuels. The study warned that if plastic production and use grow as currently planned, by 2030, these emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year—equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 new 500-megawatt coal- red power plants. By 2050, the cumulation of these greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach over 56 gigatons— which amounts to 10–13 % of the entire remaining carbon budget.

As the Guardian explained, “The authors say disposable plastic found in packaging and fast-moving consumer goods forms the largest and fastest-growing segment of the plastic economy. They are calling for urgent action to stem production and flow of throwaway plastic.”

The key actions which the authors say are required are:

  • Immediately end the production and use of single-use, disposable plastic.
  • Stop development of new oil, gas and petrochemical infrastructure.
  • Foster the transition to zero-waste communities.
  • Implement a system where polluters pay for the impact of their products – known as extended producer responsibility.

Why This Matters: Plastic touches just about every part of our lives and it will be an immense challenge to curb our reliance without investing in alternatives. However, the plastics industry along with industry-backed conservative political groups like ALEC have been very successful at slowing action on the global plastics pollution crisis so that plastics manufacturers can continue to create new plastic with few obstacles. But as this study shows need to stop manufacturing new plastic if we want to curb climate change and global pollution. As the World Resources Institute explained:

We need to invest in redesigning plastics so that they can be readily broken down into their molecular units and remanufactured into new plastics of the same quality, the essence of a closed loop system. We need better recycling technology that can address the major obstacle of recycling plastics: about 25 percent of plastics collected are contaminated and therefore unusable. We need to reinvest government budgets in the infrastructure and associated policies needed for these systemic solutions.

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