OCT 05, 2021 4:00 PM PDT

Researchers Propose Pathway to Plastics Free of Carbon Emissions

WRITTEN BY: Matthew Lundy

Plastics may, in general, be a product of fossil fuels like petroleum, but that has not stopped an international team of scientists from devising a way to potentially drop all emissions from plastic production. The team, comprised of researchers from the US, Germany, and Switzerland, recently published their findings in Science. Their study consisted in a review of over 400 separate pieces of plastics research, and the review led to a development of a recycling and carbon capture-based framework that could lead to a “net-zero-emission-plastic world by 2050.”

In fighting the scourge of plastic, we need to drop emissions and reduce usage or else plastic waste will continue to contaminate the world.

The research claims to have created a model that incorporates 90% of the world’s current plastics and plastic production. The team’s conclusion is that getting to net-zero emission plastics – eliminating the net greenhouse gases produced throughout the life cycle of plastic products – is possible. According to the study, this net-zero future would be achievable under the condition that 70% of all plastics are recycled. For context, the US currently recycles less than 10% of our plastic. Attaining such a recycling rate, along with following through on the model’s other prescriptions, such as biomass and carbon capture utilization, would produce energy savings between 34 and 53%.

The study’s model relies on some assumptions, like a high cost of oil and an incentivizing of “large-scale recycling,” but any climate action-focused future will likely be moving in the direction of these assumptions or others like it. While plastic is one of the world’s most useful inventions and a marvel of modern science, the disposable nature we have treated with it has caused it to become a bane to life around the planet. As we move toward a cleaner, more sustainable world, we will have to change our attitude of viewing plastic as a one-time use product, and instead recognize it for the long-term, nearly indestructible material it is. While we reduce its use, now we know we can also move towards making the remaining amount we do use in a sustainable, net-emission-free way.


Source: Science; Phys.org; EPA

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science communicator passionate about physics, space, and our, unfortunately, changing climate; exploring the universe through written word and the occasional video.
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