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

There's a reason over 300,000 people subscribe to Inverse. You can win cool stuff just for reading, plus you learn something new every day.
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.

Galaxy Fold: Samsung's Folding Smartphone Could Mount a Surprising Comeback

You may be able to pick up a working Fold this year after all.

Samsung’s first foldable phone’s initial launch was a face-plant. The $1,980 Galaxy Fold, originally supposed to hit shelves in the United States on April 26, flopped instantly as many of the review units sent to reporters and YouTubers broke after a few days of use.

A now-deleted iFixIt teardown of the device revealed the central problem: The Fold’s screen protector simply did not prevent dust and debris from getting underneath. That left many with the impression that the age of the foldable smartphone was yet to come, though it now looks like Samsung may have been able to resolve the Fold’s issues much faster than expected.

Neuralink: 6 Things We Learned From Elon Musk's Brain-Powered Reveal

The machine linkup could pave the way for safer A.I.

Neuralink, Elon Musk’s ambitious project to wire up the brain to computers, stepped out of the shadows Tuesday evening.

In a detail-laden presentation at the California Academy of Sciences’ Morrison Planetarium, the tech entrepreneur explained how his foray into brain-machine interfaces could pave the way for a symbiotic relationship with artificial intelligence.

PS5: Patent Filings Detail Sony's Plan to Make a Breakthrough VR Headset

Sony has groundbreaking VR plans in its future.

Virtual reality has been a fixture of the PlayStation 4 since Sony launched PlayStation VR in 2016, whose hardware attachments let gamers transform their console into full-fledged VR rigs. Rumor has it that, VR-wise, the PS 5 will follow in its predecessor’s footsteps.

Sony has already confirmed that its next-generation console will be compatible with current PSVR hardware, but it’s also clear that the entertainment giant has much bigger plans for VR further down the line.

Nintendo Switch vs. Switch Lite: Release Date, Pros and Cons, Which to Get

Two consoles for two distinct types of gamers. 

Two years after the first Nintendo Switch, the Japanese gaming giant unveiled the next chapter for its widely popular hybrid console. The Switch Lite, announced Wednesday, will fall somewhere between the original gaming system and its 2013 Nintendo 2DS, giving shoppers not one, but two Switches to choose from during the holiday spending season.

PS5: Price, Release Date, Specs, and Features for Sony's VR-Ready War Horse

Console gaming will reach heights never though possible.

The current generation of consoles is about to pass the torch. Sony has already revealed a great deal about the war horse it will ride into battle against the Xbox Scarlett consoles. The PlayStation 5 will tout PC-caliber graphics capabilities, and possibly come with a wireless virtual reality headset to take console gaming to new heights. But many crucial details about the PS5 remain unclear.