Plastic has a big carbon footprint, accounting for 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Made of oil, gas, and coal, plastic generates heat-trapping gases at every stage of their life cycle. The extraction and transportation of fuels, refining, and manufacturing are greenhouse-gas intensive. Plastic even emits traces of methane and ethylene when exposed to sunlight, and incineration releases all the stored carbon in the plastic into the atmosphere, along with other air pollutants.
And because plastic doesn’t decay, it doesn’t ever stop polluting. Humans have made 8.3bn tons of plastic since 1950, and to complicate the situation further, the vast majority of plastic is not actually getting recycled. A profound amount is ending up in the ocean, with an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastics entering the ocean yearly. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California, is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. And, a recent study on microplastic pollution in oceans has found that the problem has been grossly underestimated.