By Theresa Pinto M.S., Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) published their ‘Plastic and Climate’ report in May of this year. The Center performed a lifecycle assessment of global plastics, from drilling for the fossil fuels that form plastic resins to the incineration of plastic waste.
They found that plastic pollution threatens the world’s ability to meet carbon reduction targets. According to the report, plastic manufacturing and incineration in 2019 will release more carbon into the atmosphere than 189 coal plants.
CIEL’s President and CEO, Carroll Muffett stated that, “The real story of plastics’ impact on the environment begins at the wellheads where it comes out of the ground. And it never, ever stops.”
In February of 2018, the lifecycle assessments of grocery bags made from various materials done by the Ministry of Food and Environment in Denmark created much discussion on lifestyle choices and sustainability. The Danish study was in agreement with similar studies done in 2011 by the UK and 2007 by Australia.
It concluded that plastic grocery bags are better for the environment than all others when it comes to climate change. Typical cotton totes, because of the intensive agriculture in growing the raw material, fare the worst.
However CIEL’s report looks comprehensively at global plastics, not just grocery bags, and takes into account the fact that most plastic waste today is incinerated. The CIEL assessment also updates the model used to do the analysis, taken from the latest data available on plastic production.
Many incinerator plants have implemented waste-to-energy technology in mitigation efforts to capture the byproducts of burning and turn it into energy, if only to power their own operations.
However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that waste incineration released eleven million megatons of carbon into the atmosphere in 2015, and plastic waste contributed to more than half of it.
This is “equivalent to 1.26 million passenger vehicles driven for one year” according to the report. Climate activists tend to place plastic pollution at the bottom of the environmental priorities list because of its impression as a low-carbon emitter. However, these results could change this.
With China’s National Sword Policy in effect since 2018, China stopped taking certain categories of plastics and threw recycling systems around the world into chaos. Increasing overconsumption of single-use plastics has exacerbated the problem.
Municipalities around the world are anxious about the plastic pollution building up in their communities and now looking for alternatives to recycling. Miami-Dade County colloquially calls their system ‘wish-cycling’ for all the non-recyclable items that are put in the bins and end up either in landfills or incinerated. Contamination rates of recyclable material hovers around 25 percent nationally.
Miami also loves a good beach clean-up, but without decreasing the manufacture and consumption of plastic in the first place, no amount of cleaning up will resolve plastic pollution nor the impact to climate change it could have.