Why is Zero Plastic not equal to Zero Carbon Emission?
The world today is facing a severe environmental crisis, and one of the major contributors to this crisis is plastic pollution. Plastic is a versatile, inexpensive material that is used in a wide range of products. However, the problem with plastic is that it does not biodegrade, meaning it remains in the environment for hundreds of years. One of the ways that people and organisations are working to reduce plastic consumption is by transitioning to zero-plastic products. During conversations, the word zero emissions often come up. We know that it is a good thing for us but does it equate to zero plastic? The answer is, no. Carbon dioxide emissions (CO2 emissions) refer to the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. These emissions are hailed as the main polluters of the environment and plastic production contributes greatly to such emissions.
While it is true that plastic has a huge carbon footprint, the process of making it is the main culprit. Moreover, increased demand and usage of single-use plastics are the main issue. Sturdier plastics can outlast organic materials by a long shot. Contrary to popular belief many alternatives to plastic are also marred by the same issue of having a massive carbon footprint. And that is why only replacing plastic is not a straightforward solution to achieving our climate goals.
First, it is important to understand that plastic is made from fossil fuels, specifically oil and natural gas. These fossil fuels are extracted from the earth, transported to refineries, and then processed into plastic. The extraction, transportation, and refining of these fossil fuel all produce carbon emissions. So even if a product is made from zero plastic, it still has a carbon footprint if it is made from fossil fuels.
But is plastic the sole cause of emissions and will eliminating it entirely solve our climate woes?
Plastic is a lightweight material, and it takes less energy to transport products made from plastic than it does to transport products made from other materials. For example, it takes less energy to transport water in plastic bottles than it does to transport water in glass bottles. This means that even if a product is made from zero plastic, it still has a carbon footprint if it is made from materials that are heavier than plastic. The following graphical representation is an apt example of how plastic might be better in terms of CO2 emissions.
When plastic is banned, there is a need for an alternative solution and this alternative solution may not have the same characteristics as plastic, it may be heavier, bulkier and need more energy to be transported. This means that even if a product is made from zero plastic, it still has a carbon footprint if the alternative solution is less efficient than plastic. And at the end of its life, paper (or any other organic substance) in a landfill may emit greenhouse gases as it breaks down. To bring things into perspective, a cotton tote needs to be used at least 7000 times to become a greener alternative.
So, what does this mean for people and organisations that are working to reduce plastic consumption? It means that transitioning to zero plastic products is not a simple solution to the plastic pollution problem. It is important to consider the carbon footprint of alternative materials and products and to look for ways to reduce the carbon footprint of products overall. It is important to understand that transitioning to zero plastic products is not a simple solution to the plastic pollution problem. While it is important to reduce plastic consumption, it is also important to consider the carbon footprint of alternative materials and products. By considering the carbon footprint of products and investing in more sustainable solutions, we can work towards reducing plastic pollution and mitigating the environmental crisis.
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