Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Plastic Problem

PostedAugust 1, 2019

Lede: Add another worry to the harmful effects of plastic litter – climate change.

Randy Atkins: We already knew runaway plastic pollution is causing problems ranging from unsightly litter to the killing of marine life. But Sarah-Jeanne Royer, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii, says her research shows the problem extends into the air.

Sarah-Jeanne Royer: Even the plastic that we use every day, our phones, computers, anything that is exposed to sunlight, will be producing greenhouse gases.

Randy Atkins: Royer says the type that most readily degrades into climate-warming gases is the lightweight plastic commonly used in single-use throwaways…that too often find their way into the environment. How much greenhouse gas is being released from plastic isn’t yet known.

Sarah-Jeanne Royer: But, given the rate at which plastic is being produced, eventually it might contribute significantly to climate change.

Randy Atkins: So Royer says we need to consider re-engineering waste management, clean up, even the plastic materials themselves…and soon.  With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.