The fundamental links between climate change and marine plastic pollution

The fundamental links between climate change and marine plastic pollution

Helen V. Ford, Nia H. Jones, Andrew J. Davies, Brendan J. Godley, Jenna R. Jambeck, Imogen E. Napper, Coleen C. Suckling, Gareth J. Williams, Lucy Woodall, Heather J. Koldewey


Designing conservation networks requires a well-structured framework for achieving essential objectives such as Plastic pollution and climate change have commonly been treated as two separate issues and sometimes are even seen as competing. Here we present an alternative view that these two issues are fundamentally linked. Primarily, we explore how plastic contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the beginning to the end of its life cycle. Secondly, we show that more extreme weather and floods associated with climate change, will exacerbate the spread of plastic in the natural environment. Finally, both issues occur throughout the marine environment, and we show that ecosystems and species can be particularly vulnerable to both, such as coral reefs that face disease spread through plastic pollution and climate-driven increased global bleaching events. A Web of Science search showed climate change and plastic pollution studies in the ocean are often siloed, with only 0.4% of the articles examining both stressors simultaneously. We also identified a lack of regional and industry-specific life cycle analysis data for comparisons in relative GHG contributions by materials and products. Overall, we suggest that rather than debate over the relative importance of climate change or marine plastic pollution, a more productive course would be to determine the linking factors between the two and identify solutions to combat both crises.

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Full Citation

Ford HV, Jones NH, Davies AJ, Godley BJ, Jambeck JR, Napper IE, Suckling CC, Williams GJ, Woodall L, Koldewey HJ (2021) The fundamental links between climate change and marine plastic pollution. Science of the Total Environment 806 (2022) 150392

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