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

Rural dividend grants awarded in Kootenay West

Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy made the grant announcements in Trail on Thursday

West Kootenay gleaner’s group gets big funding boost

CBT grant allows project to save more local produce from compost bin

Fruitvale man identified in fatal zipline accident in Thailand

Spencer Donaldson, 25, was from Fruitvale, B.C., the city’s mayor has confirmed

RDCK passes climate change ‘call to arms’

Director says the statement will help guide policy

Facing high regulatory barriers, Kootenay cannabis producers gather for support

Symposium on barriers facing legalization attended by hundreds

VIDEO: Alberta man creates world’s biggest caricature

Dean Foster is trying to break the world record for a radio show contest

Should B.C. lower speed limits on side roads to 30 km/h?

Vancouver city councillor wants to decrease speed limits along neighbourhood side roads

Lawsuit eyed over union-only raise for B.C. community care workers

‘Low-wage redress’ leaves 17,000 employees out, employers say

Landlord of alleged Okanagan shooter recounts deadly day

Tony Friesen was working in one of the units of his Penticton building when he heard shots

Foreign national arrested in connection to thefts at YVR

A woman, 60, is being held in police custody as Richmond RCMP investigate

Police pursue pesky porker on Vancouver Island

‘This was allegedly not the pig’s first escape’

Westjet tries again to dismiss proposed class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination

Former flight attendant claims airline broke contractual promise to create harassment-free workplace

Man airlifted to hospital after apparent hunting incident in East Kootenay

The man was in stable condition when he was flown out of Fairmont Hot Springs to a Calgary hospital

Police probe eight fires set at B.C. elementary school

Nanaimo RCMP say fires appear to have been set intentionally

Most Read