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World Environment Day: Scientists warn plastic to be top carbon emitter

  • Published at 07:24 pm June 3rd, 2019

Plastics release 860m tons of CO2 in 2019, equal to CO2 emissions from 189 coal-fired 500MW power plants

For decades coal power plants have been considered the most significant carbon emitters, but a new study shows plastics to be the top carbon emitter with its ever increasing use across the globe.

Use of plastic, including the production of its raw materials from petroleum by-products, the manufacture of plastic goods, and the transport, incineration, and degradation of plastic will release 860 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2019, which is equal to emissions from 189 coal fired power plants of 500MW each, according to the study.

The report, “Plastic and Climate: The Hidden Cost of a Plastic Planet,” by Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a US based research organisation, was released last month.

Reckless plastic pollution and mismanagement of plastic waste recycling are triggering disaster in Bangladesh, blocking the country's drainage system at an accelerating rate and harming the environment, wildlife, and human health.

Ironically, there is a growing trend in advanced countries to reuse shopping bags made of biodegradable materials like fabric, jute or sisel.  Meanwhile, we who are the home of jute cannot enforce legislation banning the use of plastic bags, where there was a time when everyone went shopping for groceries with jute bags in hand.

The Bangladesh government in 2012 banned plastic production and the sale of polythene bags, but the ban has failed to have any major impact yet. The country is producing an estimated 312 tons of plastic every month, posing a serious threat to the nation’s health and the environment.

World Environment Day today

Against this backdrop, Bangladesh and other countries across the globe are getting ready to observe World Environment Day tomorrow.

This time, Bangladesh will observe the day with a shocking revelation that Carbon emissions from plastics products will exceed that of coal power plants in the days ahead.

A 500MW coal fired power plant burns 1,430,000 tons of coal each year, emitting 3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere alongside other carbon related gases, which are heating up our atmosphere and making the earth unlivable.

“If the growth in plastic production and incineration continue as predicted, their cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will be over 56 gigatons of CO2 which is equivalent to the emission from around 600 power plants, or between 10–13% of the total remaining carbon budget,” the report warns.

According to a study conducted by Poribesh Bachao Andolon (POBA), the use of plastics in Bangladesh has grown by 80 times in the past 28 years from only 15,000 metric tons in 1990, to 1,200,000 metric tons in 2018.

Around 6kg of fossil fuels are required to produce 1kg of plastic. If someone emits carbon anywhere on earth, it would increase global warming that will affect Bangladesh severely, scientists have found.

Plastic is made from fossil fuels and it takes energy to dig those fuels out of the ground, to process them, to ship them, and at the end of the plastics' life cycle, to dispose of it. 

What the government and experts say

Experts have stressed the need to seek out ways to get rid of the negative impact of plastics.

Nurul Quadir, additional secretary (climate change) of the environment, forest and climate change ministry said: “We should search for a way to get rid of the negative impact of plastics. If the United Nations raises the CIEL, we will implement it as per the UN direction.” 

Zakir Hossain Khan, head of the climate cell at Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) said it does not matter how much carbon we are emitting from plastics in Bangladesh.

“Bangladesh is affected most by the impacts. So the government should voice loud in world forums against world carbon emissions, including plastic sources,” he added.

Single-use plastic in Bangladesh

The Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO) has found that 3,744 tons of single-use plastics are produced nationwide each year. The country discards almost 1.1 million tons of plastic waste every year, including polythene bags. Single use plastics are non-recyclable in nature.

Dr Shahriar Hossain, secretary general of Esdo, said there is no alternative but to ban single use plastic immediately.

Plastic micro-beads and ocean pollution

The ESDO study says that 7,928 billion micro beads are going to rivers, canals and other water bodies, including 6,628.46 billion in Dhaka, 1,087.18 billion in Chittagong, and 212.38 billion in Sylhet each month. Finally, these micro beads end up in the sea, causing ocean pollution.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Bangladesh ranked 10th in the world for mass mismanagement of plastic waste. The research said that yearly, Bangladesh generates 800,000 tons of plastic waste with an estimated 310,000 tons of it ending up in the ocean.

Carbon budget and global warming

Carbon Budget means the amount of carbon dioxide we are allowed to emit to limit world temperature to no more than a 1.5 degree increase by 2100. To avoid overshooting the 1.5°C target, aggregate global greenhouse emissions must stay within a remaining (and quickly declining) carbon budget of 420–570 gigatons of carbon in this century.

According to another research published in Nature about climate change, said that by 2100, exceedingly conservative assumptions would result in cumulative carbon emissions from plastic of nearly 260 gigatons, or well over half of the carbon budget.

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