Sarah-Jeanne Royer
Sarah-Jeanne Royer shows plastics from the ocean at Kamilo Point, Hawaii. (Photo credit: Olivier Poirion)

Plastic products like six-pack rings and plastic bags can pollute waterways and harm wildlife. They also contribute to climate change.

Producing plastic generates carbon pollution. And new research shows that plastic releases greenhouse gases when it breaks down, too.

Researcher Sarah-Jeanne Royer of the University of Hawaii at Manoa found that when plastic is exposed to sunlight, it releases methane and ethylene. Both gases contribute to global warming. The biggest culprit is a type of plastic called LDPE.

Royer: “It is the type of plastic that is the most produced, consumed, and discarded in the environment. For example, the rings around the beer cans, some forks and knives that are being used in restaurants, some kinds of plastic bags as well.”

The emissions increase over time as the plastic breaks down in the environment. As it forms smaller and smaller particles with more surface area, more gases are released. Royer hopes her findings will strengthen the growing movement to reduce the use of plastic.

Royer: “We just overuse the plastic, and we can find very easy solutions to replace single use plastic.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.