Plastics Emit Methane in the Sun

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 15:04

Researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa have investigated how plastic is affecting the environment beyond what scientists have already learned.

According to research published in PLOS One on August 1, the scientists found that plastic can release methane and ethylene when exposed to sunlight.

While the amounts released by the plastics are small, researchers are concerned that the scale of plastic production and waste means they could still contribute to climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions over time.

"Considering the amounts of plastic washing ashore on our coastlines and the amount of plastic exposed to ambient conditions, our finding provides further evidence that we need to stop plastic production at the source, especially single use plastic," lead author Dr. Sarah-Jeanne Royer said in a University of Hawaii press release.

Methane and ethylene are greenhouse gases, which can negatively affect the environment. Methane, for example, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, absorbs heat and warms the environment. It is released from natural sources as well as manmade sources, such as the oil and gas industries. The new research showed that it’s also coming from something else that’s abundant in the world.

Now the scientists plan to study the amount of plastic in the world that is exposed to the environment, specifically in oceanic and terrestrial regions. That will help them calculate the greenhouse gas emissions from plastics overall.

"Research on plastic waste is revealing it to be a disturbing pandora's box," University of Geneva chemist Dr. Montserrat Filella, who was not involved with the research, told BBC News. "As research expands our knowledge, we are realising that plastics can be insidious in many other ways. For instance, as vectors of 'hidden pollutants,' such as heavy metals present in them or, now, as a source of greenhouse gases. And, in all cases, throughout the entire lifetime of the plastic."

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