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Mon Apr 15, 2019, 08:12 PM

Plastic's Carbon Footprint

https://www.news.ucsb.edu/2019/019424/plastic-s-carbon-footprint
Plastic’s Carbon Footprint
Researchers conduct first global assessment of the lifecycle of greenhouse gas emissions from plastics

By Harrison Tasoff
Monday, April 15, 2019 - 08:00
Santa Barbara, CA

From campaigns against microplastics to news of the great Pacific garbage patch, public awareness is growing about the outsized effect plastic has on the world’s oceans. However, its effect on the air is far less obvious. Plastic production, use, and disposal all emit prodigious amounts of greenhouse gasses, but scientists haven’t had a firm grasp on the scope.

Now researchers at UC Santa Barbara have determined the extent to which plastic contributes to climate change, and what it would take to curb these emissions. The results appear in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“This is, to our best knowledge, the first global assessment of the life cycle of greenhouse gas emissions from all plastics,” said author Sangwon Suh, a professor at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. “It’s also the first evaluation of various strategies to reduce the emissions of plastics.”

Plastics have surprisingly carbon-intense life cycles. The overwhelming majority of plastic resins come from petroleum, which requires extraction and distillation. Then the resins are formed into products and transported to market. All of these processes emit greenhouse gases, either directly or via the energy required to accomplish them. And the carbon footprint of plastics continues even after we’ve disposed of them. Dumping, incinerating, recycling and composting (for certain plastics) all release carbon dioxide. All told, the emissions from plastics in 2015 were equivalent to nearly 1.8 billion metric tons of CO₂.

https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0459-z

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