It’s become widely accepted that plastic waste is a gigantic global problem. But is it a climate-change problem, too? Answers to this trickier question are becoming clearer, as these articles demonstrate.
“How the fossil fuel industry is pushing plastics on the world,” Katie Brigham, CNBC. An excellent place to start. The 15-minute video is a little more informative than the text, but either will grab your attention and arm you with lots of useful, though troubling, information.
“How bad are plastics, really? They’re harmful to health, environment, and human rights – and now poised to dominate this century as an unchecked cause of climate change,” Rebecca Altman, The Atlantic. This long, thorough, and intriguing article tells the history of plastics and elucidates the many different problems they cause. (Access to a few Atlantic stories each month is available without a subscription.)
“Fossil fuel industry sees the future in hard-to-recycle plastic,” Deirdre McKay, The Conversation. A short, informative call to see plastic and climate as “two inseparable parts of the same problem.”
“Trash and burn: big brands stoke cement kilns with plastic waste as recycling falters,” Joe Brock, Yuddy Cahya Budiman, John Geddie, Valerie Volcovici, Reuters Special Report. Burning plastic to make cement? What could possibly go wrong? Dealing with one problem, in this case, creates others, adding both carbon dioxide and toxins to the air.
To learn more, take a look at any of several recent reports about links between plastics and climate change – or articles about them. All are reasonably accessible to non-specialists.
- “Plastics & Climate, The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,” CIEL (Center for International Environmental Law)
- “Reckoning with the U.S. role in global ocean plastic waste,” National Academies Press. About this government-mandated report, see Tik Root in the Washington Post or Melissa Gaskill in Texas Climate News.
- “The new coal: plastics and climate change,” Jim Vallette and others, Beyond Plastics. About this report from a research center at Bennington College, see Maya Yang in The Guardian or Elizabeth Gribkoff in The Daily Climate.
- “World talks on a treaty to control plastic pollution are set for Nairobi in February. How to do so is still up in the air,” James Bruggers, Inside Climate News. What can be done? Global policy people are on the case, but the way forward is anything but simple or uncontroversial.
- “Plastics are worse than you think. The solutions are better,” Claire Elise Thompson, Grist (Fix Solutions Lab). Some encouraging developments that could give us all better options for daily life.
This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.