A ground breaking study shows the British public is right to be worried about plastic waste

26th August 2018 | Recycling

The British public is finally getting serious about banishing plastic waste, according to response to a government consultation published on 18 August. The responses revealed that a significant majority of the British public backs tougher measures to reduce plastic waste. The news is timely as a recent study has revealed that plastic waste could be a contributor to global climate change and poor air quality.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii made the ground breaking discovery by exposing popular consumer plastics to solar and ultraviolet radiation. The researchers tested a number of commonly used plastics such as polycarbonate, acrylic, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, and polystyrene.

Plastic Waste

The majority of plastics they tested emitted traces of ethylene and methane when exposed to solar radiation. Methane is a greenhouse gas that warms the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in rising temperatures. Ethylene is also a powerful greenhouse gas. As the UN explains:

“According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane traps heat and warms the planet 86 times more than carbon dioxide over a 20-year horizon. Other sources indicate that methane, although far less prevalent, is a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”

The study revealed that of all the products tested, plastic shopping bags produced the largest amounts of ethylene and methane. The revelation is particularly concerning because it’s estimated the global population uses between 500bn and 1tn plastic bags per year. We recycle only a tiny fraction of those bags, as little as one in 200.

Fortunately, some countries are making efforts to address the amount of plastic bag waste. Measures introduced to limit plastic bag usage in the UK has decreased the number of bags on the seabed. The UK government is also reportedly planning to announce an increase in the cost of single-use shopping bags from 5p to 10p.

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