Plastic pollution a significant driver of climate change and biodiversity loss – new report

Far from abating the problem of plastic pollution continues to dominate headlines, whether plastic is choking up our waterways or being burned off overseas.

Now a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which describes itself as an organisation that ‘investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuse’, has argued that plastic waste should no longer be seen as a fringe environmental problem but as a core facet of the planetary emergency.

In Connecting the Dots Plastic pollution and the planetary emergency the EIA argues that while ‘plastic pollution has historically been conceptualised as ‘litter’… the reality is much more sinister’.

They outline projected figures which suggest that by 2050 the weight of plastic will likely far exceed the weight of all fish in every ocean on earth, making plastic pollution one of the most prevalent environmental pollutants and as such ‘a significant driver of climate change and biodiversity loss’.

It’s small wonder then that a white paper released last year by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation called for a UN treaty on plastics.

The report reveals that each stage of the plastic lifecycle has a negative impact on the planet from extraction – 99 per cent of plastics use crude oil, fossil gas or coal as a feedstock the report reveals – to refinement and production. For the latter the report states figures which outline that plastic production releases about 1.89 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per tonne of virgin (new) plastic produced.

The EIA go on to say that plastic pollution meets much of the criteria of a planetary boundary threat. Nine of these planetary boundaries were identified by climate scientists in 2009, who said that if crossed would lead to an increased risk of generating large-scale abrupt or irreversible environmental changes.

The report states: ‘Plastic pollution is practically irreversible and globally ubiquitous, and thus meets two of the three conditions to be classed as a planetary boundary.’

The EIA concludes its report by making a series of recommendations to UN member states, including calls for them to urgently:

  • eliminate the discharge of plastics into the environment
  • phase plastic production down to sustainable levels in alignment with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12, and;
  • promote the upscaling of reuse, refill and traditional packaging systems tailored to national contexts

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