Plastics Changing the Climate

Plastic waste has a huge environmental impact and has been especially destructive to marine life. Now a new study shows that plastics are a growing source of greenhouse gases, and that some types of clothing manufacture are major contributors.

Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management conducted the first life-cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from plastics. The researchers report that in 2015 plastics contributed about 1.8 gigatonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere, or 3.8 percent of the total amount emitted that year from all sources. If trends in plastic production and consumption continue, plastics will be responsible for 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. (The global production of plastics, which are derived from fossil fuels, has quadrupled over the past 40 years.)

The scientists identified polyester, polyamide, and acrylic fibers as contributing the largest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions from all plastic manufacturing. These materials are found in clothing items, carpets, and cleaning cloths, and over 70 million tons are manufactured each year.

In addition to greenhouse gasses, these synthetic materials are also responsible for microfiber pollution, which has become an increasingly serious problem.

All of this underscores the need to avoid synthetic materials in clothing purchases and to make sure to donate rather than dispose of unwanted items.