This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Learn more

Decomposing Plastics Have Been a Source of Greenhouse Gases This Whole Time


No. On top of all the other bad things we can attribute to plastics pollution (the damage to marine life, the leaching of toxic chemicals into the environment, and making gross and unsightly beaches, etc.), a team at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa’s Center for Microbial Oceanography has found one more: Plastics are releasing potent greenhouse gases, including methane and ethylene, into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. (Is there any other kind of rate?)

Worse still, of the seven kinds of plastic tested in the new study, published Wednesday in PLOS One — polycarbonate, acrylic, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polystyrene, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) — the worst offender was also the most commonly used. Great.

“We discovered the LDPE, low-density polyethylene, is the type of plastic producing the most gases,” lead author Sarah-Jeanne Royer, a post-doctoral scholar at the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) tells Inverse. “Unfortunately, this is most discarded plastic in the world. This is the most used plastic in the world as well.”

LDPE is the real cheap stuff, the web-like plastic sacks you use to protect vegetables that you’re going to wash anyway. It’s also the key ingredient in plastic bottles, playground slides, and six-pack rings. Many Americans have an intimate relationship with this material. As Radiohead once sang, “Plastic bag, middle class, Polyyyyethyleeeeeene.”

Article continues below

Our Science and Innovation teams bring you all of today’s news that’s helping shape your tomorrow.
Sign up for our newsletter:
Lead author Sarah-Jeanne Royer of the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) with microplastic pollution at Kamilo Point on Hawaii Island.

The global demand for polyethylene resins was about 99.6 million metric tons in 2018, according to a report from the market-research firm Freedonia Group. That’s a four percent increase over the previous year, in what Royer and her colleagues worry is a steady rise.

“Plastic represents a source of climate-relevant trace gases that is expected to increase as more plastic is produced and accumulated in the environment,” as the paper’s senior author, University of Hawai’i oceanographer David Karl, put it in a statement. “This source is not yet budgeted for when assessing global methane and ethylene cycles, and may be significant.”

This isn’t the end of the bad news, sadly. Karl, Royer, and their team are still studying this phenomena, which Royer says she was surprised no one else had thought to do yet.

“I even did some tests with CO2 — and CO2 is also being produced,” Royer says, “but this is not being discussed in the paper. That will be for another publication.”

In other words, there’s yet more evidence that we’re only barely beginning to understand the scope of what’s causing climate change, and what we’ll have to do to address it.

Which Soundbars Have the Best Quality? Try These 5 Brands

Upgrade your entertainment sound system with the subtle--but transformational--addition of a soundbar.

If you’ve ever wanted to host a screening party, or you just really want to enhance your own entertainment experience, a soundbar might be a very welcome addition. But what is it? If you’ve ever seen magazine photos of a brilliant entertainment system, chances are you’ve seen an ambiguous looking long black box fixated somewhere in front of the TV. It’s basically a wireless speaker, meant to deliver optimized surround sound and bring the movie theater experience to your living room.

The Best of Nintendo Switch Chargers, Docks, and Cases

Protect your investment and charge with ease with these must-have Switch accessories.

The Nintendo Switch is among the most innovative gaming consoles to come out since the PlayStation Portable. It’s cool in and of itself, but the accessories that you can pair with it are next level. Cases for the Nintendo Switch are nothing like what we used to get for our Gameboys — there is often a slot for your cord and games!

Elon Musk’s Dramatic Photo Shows SpaceX Rocket Coming in to Land

Elon Musk’s space-faring firm has been charting a course for future space exploration. The SpaceX CEO shared an image Friday from one of the company’s biggest initiatives to fund future missions: a Falcon 9 rocket coming in to land on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship having completed its mission, a move that enables the firm to use the rocket again and save millions in construction costs.

Groundbreaking Solar Panels Use Space Tech to Double Efficiency

Insolight is using satellite technology.

A new solar technology promises to offer double the efficiency of conventional residential panels, by using an optical system to concentrate the light on tiny cells typically reserved for space satellites. Insolight, a new solar startup founded by three former students from Switzerland’s École Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, claims its panels can offer yields of up to 29 percent. By comparison, many panels on the market offer yields around 17 to 19 percent.

Waldo-Hunting A.I. Robot Solves One of Life's Greatest Mysteries

Never wonder where Waldo is again.

A machine designed to find a children’s book character is causing a stir on social media. “There’s Waldo” is a robot that uses computer vision to locate the beanie-clad chap in the “Where’s Waldo” series of books, automating one of the great stresses of five-year-olds worldwide.

The machine was created by the creative agency Red Pepper, which demonstrated its creation in August 2018. It uses Google’s AutoML Vision, a cloud-based artificial intelligence service that enables developers to create custom models for identifying images. The team uploaded 26 drawings of Waldo to train the model before setting up the bot. The machine uses a Raspberry Pi computer equipped with the PYUARM Python library to control the UARM Metal. The arm uses a Logitech webcam and OpenCV to identify faces and send back to Google, placing the rubber hand down if Google reports a 95 percent or higher confidence rate. The robot was shared by Twitter user “CKYPT” last week, and it has since received nearly one million views: