Plastic Waste and Global Warming

A Toraphene Guide


Plastic production consumes 20% of the world's oil consumption.


Plastic production causes greenhouse gas emissions at every stage: extraction, refining, and manufacturing.


Greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production are one of the leading contributors to global warming.

While plastic pollution itself has severe implications for the health of our planet, the byproducts of plastic products themselves are also harmful. At every stage of plastic production, greenhouse gases are emitted that contribute to climate change.

What are greenhouse gases?

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are gases that trap heat in the earth's atmosphere, thereby contributing to the greenhouse effect, which raises earth's temperatures. The primary GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N20), and fluorinated gases.


GHGs like carbon dioxide primarily originate from human industrial activities such as the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation. Agricultural practices such as cattle rearing and rice cultivation produce methane and nitrous oxide.

How do greenhouse gases cause global warming?

The issue arises when the concentration of these gases in the atmosphere increases beyond their normal levels. Human activities like burning fossil fuels for energy, deforestation, and industrial and agricultural processes, are increasing the concentrations of GHGs, leading to more heat getting trapped. The more GHGs increase in the atmosphere, the more heat is trapped, the more the earth's temperatures rise - global warming.

Greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production

Plastic is derived from fossil fuels, predominantly petroleum and natural gas. The process of extracting and refining these resources, and then manufacturing plastic products from them, emits a significant amount of GHGs.


According to a 2019 report from the Center for International Environmental Law, found that if plastic production and use grow as planned, then by 2030, these emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year - equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 new 00-megawatt coal-fired power plants.

1. Extraction and transport

Extraction is the first step of plastic production, when the raw fossil fuel is pulled from the earth. This happens by drilling and mining, both of which produce greenhouse gases. Transport of the extracted fossil fuels to where they are used, also produces greenhosue gas emissions.

2. Refining and manufacturing

The production of plastic causes a tremendous amount of greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, it will be responsible for 20% of the world's oil consumption. Plastic refining creates substantial emissions during the chemical refining process when raw materials are turned into plastic. In 2015 a survey revealed that a sample of 24 ethylene factories in the US produced more than 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Emissions from plastic decomposition

When plastic waste ends up in the environment, it doesn't just disappear. It breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces over hundreds to thousands of years, during which it can release GHGs. Research in 2018 revealed that common plastics emit GHGs when exposed to sunlight including methane and ethylene.


Additionally, when plastic waste is incinerated in waste-to-energy facilities, it releases CO2. Even controlled incineration in modern facilities releases CO2, albeit while generating energy.

1. Landfills and land pollution

Plastic waste takes centuries to decompose in a landfill or just as land pollution. Plastic emits harmful methane and ethylene gases throughout this degradation process, which f course contributes to global warming.

2. Acquatic pollution

Plastic pollution in the ocean is on a truly colossal scale. A recent study estimated that the total plastic in the sea will outweigh all the fish.

3. Plastic combustion

The combustion of plastic is very harmful to the environment. It is a common way to get rid of plastic waste, and can be harnessed to generate energy, but it produces severely polluting gases and materials including black carbon, which has a global warming potential 5,000x that of CO2.

How to reduce plastic emissions

On an individual level, the only real way to truly reduce emissions form plastic is simple: use less of it. At basically every stage from raw material extraction to decomposition, plastic produces GHGs, the best way to reduce this is to reduce the amount of plastic used and therefore created.


Here are a few easy ways to reduce your plastic consumption:

1. Switch to reusable

Switch to reusable whenever possible. For instance, use refillable glass or metal water bottles instead of plastic bottled water, use your own metal cutlery instead of plastic takeaway cutlery, and bring your own reusable bag when shopping rather than using single-use plastic bags.

2. Choose home compostable options

Some things just can't be reused like rubbish bags, or packaging for e.g. meat and fish. For these essential single-use products, switch to a home compostable, non-toxic option. For example Toraphene bin bags are home compostable and use plant-based materials that break down cleanly without emitting harmful greenhouse gases.

3. Buy fewer prepackaged items

Try to reduce the amount of prepackaged items you buy. Many products have far more plastic packaging than necessary. There are now shops all over the place that allow you to bring a reusable container that you can refill with whatever you want to buy. This greatly reduces plastic use.