Plastic pollution has emerged as one of the major environmental issues of the present as marine plastics are the most prominent issue related by the consumption of plastic. It is estimated that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that around fourteen million tonnes of waste enter our oceans every year.
The extremely durable nature of plastics means that they could take many thousands of years to degrade in the ocean, creating harm to the wellbeing of our oceans and the creatures that live within it. Scientists have calculated the impact as a 1-5 percent decline in the delivery of ecosystem services to marine life which is equivalent to a loss of between $500 and 2,500 billion in the value of benefits that result by these benefits. Millions of people living in the coastal areas depend upon these services.
The ongoing studies in environmental economics along with new toxicological research continue to provide insight into the effects of plastics on marine ecosystems and the human health. Discussions on the impact of these plastics and climate impacts have been sparse until now, particularly during global climate talks. They are made from fossil fuels and emit emissions of greenhouse gas throughout their lifetime and are expected to account for the equivalent of 20% the oil usage and 15% of world’s total carbon footprint in 2050. Plastics that are used for only one time, particularly have a large carbon footprint, as well as a depletion of energy resources. They are discarded after an unintentional, short-term usage.
Materials made from other sources other than oil are beginning to take over different parts of the market for plastics and, in particular, single-use plastics. They are made from natural, biological sources are referred to as biopolymers or bioplastics. As the market for bioplastics expands exponentially to meet growing demand for plastic substitutes biodegradability and health impacts are crucial to be considered. However, also the carbon footprint that is often ignored in the case of plastic alternatives.
Comparing plastic to its familar alternatives
Polylactic Acid (PLA) are the two most sought-after alternatives to plastics that are used for only one purpose. While PLA can only be biodegradable in composting facilities for industrial use Paper and bio-derived plastics such as PLA as well as a variety of other “plant-based” compostable alternatives could cause significant greenhouse gas emissions.
As an example, using paper Study after study has shown that paper bags carry more carbon footprint than standard plastic bags for shopping. In actual fact an study of a meta-analysis from seven Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) conducted by UNEP in 2020 concluded that bags made of paper are less liable to littering’s effects; however, most of the time they’re significantly more harmful in terms of the effects of climate change, eutrophication and acidification, when compared to single-use plastic bags.
An additional study which compared the use for grocery bags constructed of compostable plastics with traditional grocery bags made of high-density polyethylene (LDPE) came up with similar results. The manufacturing for compostable bags as well as paper bags required nearly three times the energy required to produce the same quantity of plastic bags made traditionally. In addition, they produced greenhouse gas emissions of up three times greater than the plastic bag of the past.
Similar trends were observed similar trends were observed in the limited study that was a comparative LCA study that compared single-use straws for drinking with its most popular alternatives that include the PLA straw, as well as the paper straw. Regarding energy use the straw that was single-use was nearly half the energy requirement that PLA straws and straws made of paper. Similar to that to the PLA straw as well as the straw made up of paper were both able to generate a global warming potential almost three times higher than the single-use straw. The study also showed that straws made of (reusable) straw made of metal would be significantly less impact than straws made of plastic, provided that the straws made of metal are cleaned using cold tap water, and the regular washing process is cut in one-third after every use.
The majority of carbon footprint being absorbed by the primary substance straws for single-use use using naturally occurring carbon dioxide capture substances like seaweed could become a game changer for alternative to plastics markets. In this regard an initial assessment has of the carbon dioxide sequestration capability of a straw made of seaweed created by LOLIWARE LLC. to be lower than other straws used for conventional use.
The amount of carbon dioxide that the straw made from seaweed is removed from the air in the form of carbon dioxide is 95 percent of the amount an ordinary plastic straw releases throughout its lifespan as outlined in the study. This means that if a straw’s lifespan is considered into the straw’s design as well as its manufacturing and the end-of-life scenarios the straw that is made from seaweed has the potential to become carbon-neutral, or even negative. This in conjunction with seaweed’s role in the social and economic well-being of many people living in coastal communities across the globe, particularly women, makes seaweed an ideal option to replace plastic.
In achieving net-zero emissions, you need an evidence-based plastic policy
As the world is attempting to achieve to the Paris Agreement goals and divest from fossil fuels, the production of plastic is set to increase by a factor of two in 2040. It is the industry of fossil fuels that specifically, is trying to diversify its income through making investments in the plastics industry and using those profits to fund the huge infrastructure with fixed costs that surround refineries for oil.
The world’s leaders are now setting to write the finer points and terms of the Paris Agreement-style global treaty regarding plastic pollution which was ratified in the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi this week, the effect that plastics have on climate changes needs to be at the front of the list. The treaty will need to have governments agree with the setting of ambitious goals to address the issue of plastic pollution from a long-term view, which includes reducing the production of plastic, and also be based on the human rights principles as well as environmental justice.
Plastic bans aren’t new and we’ve seen countrycity, state and even establishment-level restrictions on single-use plastics like drinking straws in the hopes of decreasing or eliminating their usage. However, these bans have automatically resulted in the replacement of plastic straws with fiber-based or paper and bioplastic (PLA) alternatives under the expectation that the alternatives would decrease environmental damage due to straws made of plastic – however, they do not.
This is the reason why the global treaty on plastic pollution should be especially careful. The final provisions of the treaty should be strong enough to contemplate single-use plastic bans but only as part of a scientifically-based, complimentary plastic policy that aims to reduce unnecessary consumption of plastic as well as the environmental impacts of a variety of plastic alternatives – ranging from biodegradability to and offers incentives for alternatives to use. For example an option to modify the default choice like “a straw on request”-framework together with environmental certification and labeling Financial investments in both research and infrastructure for waste management and development of new biomaterials like seaweed biopolymers are recommended as the most efficient set of guidelines to limit single-use straw consumption.
A net-zero-emissions future will require alternative plastics that are biodegradable, adaptable, affordable and more importantly, considerably lower in energy consumption as well as carbon footprint as well as being carbon neutral and negative when possible.