What Are The Fundamental Links Between Climate Change and Marine Plastic Pollution?

A 2022 article titled “The Fundamental Links Between Climate Change and Marine Plastic Pollution” describes how climate change and marine plastic pollution interact with one another.

Plastics are transported from place to place by circulation systems, including wind, ocean currents, and freshwater river flows. In other words, climate and weather influence plastic’s global distributions and concentrations. The physical effects of climate change then, are likely to increase the mobilization of plastics between land, sea, and freshwater systems. Climate change is already beginning to enhance the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events, like floods and monsoons.

Does Plastic Cause Global Warming?

As plastics spread into novel environments, they release greenhouse gases like methane and ethylene, which fuel global warming. “The Fundamental Links Between Climate Change and Marine Plastic Pollution” notes that plastic contributes to climate change at all stages of its lifecycle, from production to disposal.

Making plastic requires extracting organic materials, like crude oil and plant matter, which are burned, refined, and processed. The resulting plastic must too be heated for molding and manufacturing. After use, the plastic product may be recycled, become landfilled, be incinerated, or end up an environmental pollutant. In each case, the plastic will emit more CO2 as it degrades or is melted, according to a 2019 study referenced in the review. From production to end-of-life, plastic materials release potent greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and ethylene (C2H4). Greenhouse gases from plastic materials, therefore, contribute to ocean heating and climate change.

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