Plastic degrading in the ocean produces greenhouse gas, new study says

Canadian-lead study found 90% of the debris along the Hawaiian coast comes from fishing or Asia

Beyond simply piling up along the coast, discarded plastics that end up in the ocean could also be a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study by a Canadian-led team of researchers from the University of Hawaii.

The team, which is led by Quebec native Sarah-Jeanne Royer, has garnered international attention ever since their findings were published in the American scientific journal Plot One last week.

In an interview, Royer said the researchers found that some types of common plastics emit greenhouse gases when they degrade, and that the phenomenon is intensified by sun exposure.

“Aided by solar radiation, the plastic will degrade and become microplastic, and the more the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces, the more it will produce greenhouse gases,” the oceanographer told The Canadian Press in a phone interview.

“If we look at the last 70 years, all the plastic that has been produced is currently being degraded in the environment and producing greenhouse gases. So the longer we wait, the more (greenhouse gases) will increase exponentially.”

Royer said the research is based on low-density polyethylene plastic that is found in food packaging or storage bags, as well as the plastic rings that hold soft drinks or beer cans.

Some 90 per cent of the debris discovered along the Hawaiian coast comes either from the fishing industry or from Asia, and washes up on the Pacific island due to ocean currents, she said.

“In Asia, they no longer have places to put waste and an incredibly high number of garbage will end up along the coast,” she said.

“Afterward, the high tide arrives and brings all this waste to the ocean.”

The Quebec-born oceanographer, who was previously based in Brazil, said she left that country to join the Hawaii team in 2015 after it made its first discovery.

The work has drawn the attention of California Gov. Jerry Brown, who invited her to discuss her findings at the next global climate action summit in San Diego in September, which will include discussions on ocean protection.

It’s unclear whether the results of the American study will interest Donald Trump’s administration, who left June’s G7 summit meeting in Quebec without signing an agreement to reduce plastic waste in oceans, as did Japan.

It also doesn’t appear to interest members of the plastic industry, who Royer says have thus far refused to co-operate with her team.

“It was extremely difficult to communicate with them, and eventually they all told me they didn’t want to answer my questions or communicate with me,” she said, adding that she doubts her research comes as a surprise to the industry’s big players.

“In my opinion, the plastic industries know (the effects of plastic) very well and don’t want to share it.”

Despite the rebuff, the Quebec native appears to have joined forces with some strong allies.

For the last three years, she’s been collaborating with NGOs such as Greenpeace and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in order to keep the public informed on the latest research into ocean pollution.

Helen Moka, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

William (Bill) Harris of Ponoka County reported missing

Rimbey RCMP seek public assistance in locating missing male

Rimbey Business Awards Banquet Oct. 18

Rimbey & District Chamber of Commerce present annual awards

Ponoka County fire crews handle second baler fire in 12 hours

Fire crews handled a baler fire just west of Gull Lake

WCPS uses cannabis legislation to fully review drug, alcohol and tobacco policies

Cannabis is not permitted in schools; WCPS focused on providing education and support

Puff, puff, pass: Cannabis is officially legal across Canada

Alberta readies itself for cannabis sales with 17 stores (for now) and a new provincial website

Canada Post strikes leaves small shops in the lurch as holidays approach: CFIB

Rotating strikes began in Victoria, Edmonton, Halifax and Windsor

CFL playoff picture still muddled heading into weekend action

League revealed last week no fewer than 64 potential playoff permutations

New monitoring of vessel noise impact on endangered whales announced

Federal government to monitor underwater ship and mammal noise in B.C.’s Salish Sea

Three men charged in Alberta man’s murder will go straight to trial

The three men are charged with first degree murder in the death a 20-year-old from Alberta.

Liberals write off $6.3 billion in loans as part of money never to be collected

That includes student loans and a $2.6 billion write off that came through Export Development Canada

Trudeau, McKenna to announce compensation for federal carbon plan

Provinces that don’t have a carbon price of at least $20 per tonne of emissions will have Ottawa’s plan forced on them

Harry and Meghan travel in different style on Australia tour

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are on day seven of their 16-day tour of Australia and the South Pacific.

AP Exclusive: Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair, thesis for sale

The online auction features 22 items from Hawking, including his doctoral thesis on the origins of the universe, with the sale scheduled for 31 October and 8 November.

Most Read