We are living through a major transition in the way we make and consume plastics.
Plastic packaging has become the de facto standard packaging for many items that can be recycled.
But a recent paper in Nature Communications reveals that plastic bottles are actually contributing to the global warming that we are all experiencing.
In the paper, researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University in Beijing report that the amount of plastic used in packaging is significantly increasing, despite the fact that the use of the materials is declining.
The research suggests that plastic is contributing to climate change in two important ways.
First, the plastic that we’re consuming is making its way into our oceans, where it contributes to warming and pollution.
Second, the packaging we’re using is contributing even more, with plastic bottles contributing to global-warming emissions that are growing at the fastest pace in the world.
The paper describes two different types of plastic bottles, one that uses the natural carbon-based polymer that we find in most bottles, and one that is made of synthetic plastic that is manufactured by a chemical company, the researchers say.
While both types are more expensive to manufacture, the synthetic plastic bottles have a higher melting point and are more prone to oxidation, which means that they have higher emissions.
Both plastic bottles also contain more plastic, which increases the amount that is used up in the production process, the authors write.
What’s more, both types of bottles are a large source of carbon dioxide and are a major contributor to climate warming, the paper says.
The scientists estimate that about 1,000 metric tons of plastic are produced each year in the U.S. alone.
While the overall amount of carbon-dioxide that is emitted by the plastics industry is less than a tenth of that, the scientists estimate the plastic produced in the plastics business alone is equivalent to more than 50 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
The study says the research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Energy, the U:Co and the National Institutes of Health.
“We are already seeing a major shift in our plastic packaging practices,” said study author Michael Sturgis, a researcher in the School of Environmental Science and Engineering at UC Santa Barbara.
“It is a real concern that we will continue to be shipping products in plastic bottles that are toxic to the environment.
Our plastics industry should make it a priority to minimize the amount and type of plastic that enters the environment and contribute to climate disruption.”
The paper does not show how much plastic is made each year, but the authors say it is a reasonable estimate.
“Our data suggest that we could produce between 5 and 15 metric tons each year of synthetic plastics, which represents an increase of more than one-third from the previous decade,” Sturgs said.
“If you are able to produce these synthetic plastics at a reasonable price, we estimate that a large part of that would come from the manufacturing of the plastic bottles.”
The researchers say that the plastic we are shipping now could be replaced by more sustainable alternatives if companies took the time to consider the environment, sustainability and the impact of their plastic products on the environment as they are made.
“The paper gives a good starting point for considering alternative materials in the future for plastics packaging and packaging materials,” Strughis said.
The authors write that the paper provides important information for the plastic industry and the communities that rely on plastic bottles for everyday use.
“This paper suggests that it may be worthwhile to reconsider the use and manufacture of synthetic and natural plastic bottles,” said Robert Wiebe, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University at Buffalo, and co-author of the paper.
“There is some evidence that the consumption of these synthetic and/or natural plastic products may be causing climate disruption through the addition of additional CO 2 to the atmosphere.”
Plastic bottles are also a major source of CO 2 , and the paper notes that the plastics used to make the synthetic bottles have higher concentrations of carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide than do the plastic used to produce the natural bottles.
“Anecdotal evidence suggests that the increased concentration of CO2 may be the result of the increased use of synthetic packaging materials such as synthetic plastics,” the authors conclude.
The team also points out that plastic packaging can increase the amount we waste because it can be used as a plastic bag, a container, or even as a trash receptacle.
In fact, the research paper notes, a lot of plastic packaging is also used in food packaging, which is also known to have an impact on the climate.