Study: Plastic degrading in the oceans could be contributing to global warming

Updated: Aug. 2, 2018 at 6:45 AM HST
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MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii researchers have discovered that plastics degrading in the environment are even more harmful than once thought.

A team at the UH Manoa's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology says that several greenhouse gases are emitted as common plastics are exposed to sunlight. The group published a study Wednesday with their findings.

"Plastic represents a source of climate-relevant trace gases that is expected to increase as more plastic is produced and accumulated in the environment," said professor David Karl, senior author of the study.

Greenhouse gases directly influence climate change, which affects sea level and global temperatures, among other things. Karl says plastic sources are not yet accounted for when assessing greenhouse gases in the environment, and those numbers may be significant.

The study also says that microplastics, which stem from the breakdown of plastic products, may further accelerate the production of gas.

"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," said Sarah-Jeanne Royer, lead author of the study.

Royer is now working to estimate just how much plastic is exposed to the environment worldwide.

On top of greenhouse gas emissions, degrading plastic is also known to release harmful chemicals which can impact organisms and ecosystems.

Mass production of plastics started nearly 70 years ago, and the production rate is expected to double over the next two decades, according to a UH news release.

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