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Measured carbon footprint

Date: June 25, 2024 Time: 12:16:43

By eliminating plastic in favor of other materials, greenhouse gas emissions increase by 10 to 90%.

Photo: Shutterstock.

A team of British and Swedish scientists, in a study for the University of Sheffield, examined the impact of plastic and other materials on greenhouse gas emissions in 16 applications, including construction, packaging, automotive, consumer goods. consumption, textiles, etc. found that 15 of these plastic products produce lower carbon emissions than glass and aluminum alternatives. This gives reason to re-examine the methods of combating global warming.

Scientists have been studying this problem since 1975, with the publication of Wallace Smith Broker’s article “Climate Change: Are We on the Verge of Significant Global Warming?” in Science magazine. Since then, a large number of scientific articles and reports in international forums and conferences have been dedicated to this topical topic. Today, experts are also actively studying which materials and processes contribute most to the development of this dangerous phenomenon. Only between 1990 and 2019, according to a study recently carried out by scientists at Monash University in Australia, 153 thousand deaths were recorded due to global warming. The problem is quite tangible. The increase in temperature on the planet breaks records every year. Where yesterday there were snowy and frosty winters, today it is raining and the thermometer barely drops below zero. The number of floods, wildfires, tornadoes and other natural disasters is increasing, and people are dying from the heat. And these are all results of the Earth’s global warming.

Leaders in CO2

To determine the environmental impact of different materials, representatives from the University of Sheffield used a method to evaluate the full life cycle of a product. The finding is surprising: CO2 emissions increase by 10 to 90% when switching from plastic to other materials.

By examining alternatives to plastic products in different areas, scientists evaluated their relative carbon footprint (FCF). Thus, when studying the segment of the automotive industry, it turned out that the production of steel fuel tanks for automobiles produces 90% more greenhouse gases compared to plastic ones. The emissions of fiberglass in thermal insulation turned out to be 80% higher than those of polymeric materials. In the textile sector, the carbon footprint of wool carpets is 80% greater than that of synthetic carpets and 15% greater than that of cotton t-shirts.

A study of the packaging segment showed that the following products have the highest carbon footprint compared to plastic packaging: paper bags (80% more CO2), aluminum and steel packaging for pet food (70% more CO2), aluminum beverage containers (50% more than plastic), paper meat containers (35% more emissions).

According to Dr Fanran Meng, assistant professor of sustainable chemical engineering at the University of Sheffield, not all alternative or recycled products have been proven to be better for the environment than virgin materials. The scientist called for making decisions on the replacement of materials based on an evaluation of the entire life cycle of the product. This will ensure that CO2 emissions do not increase when switching from plastic to alternative, more energy-intensive materials.

Long carbon footprint

The research also compared the absolute carbon footprint of plastic products with alternatives made from other materials. It refers to the totality of all greenhouse gas emissions that are produced directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product itself. Thus, in the packaging segment, the CO2 equivalent of PET plastic containers for soft drinks is 436 kg, aluminum is 887 kg and glass is 1,176 kg.

Scientists observed that the carbon footprint of thermoplastic low-density polyethylene (HDPE) milk bottles is higher during production, but lower throughout the entire life cycle (including recycling).

The reason for the lower carbon footprint of plastic packaging compared to glass and aluminum packaging lies in the low energy intensity of its production, as well as its low weight. For example, transporting 14,000 liters of water in plastic bottles over a distance of 1,600 kilometers will require 355 liters less fuel than transporting the same volume of water in glass containers. Ultimately, this results in a smaller carbon footprint, meaning you have a much smaller impact on the climate.

More examples. The carbon footprint of a plastic car fuel tank is 16.2 kg, while a steel one is 325.1 kg. The lighter weight reduces emissions almost 14 times. SS thermal insulation materials based on polyurethane – 1,361 kg, fiberglass – 7,291 kg. Polyurethane produces higher emissions than glass, but its density allows savings on the building’s heat retention. Ultimately, this results in fewer carbon dioxide emissions in the housing and communal services sector.

Selective waste collection against global warming

Thus, the authors of the study concluded that abandoning plastic in favor of alternative materials will lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

For us this means that initiatives to completely ban plastic or replace it with other materials will not only not improve the environmental situation in the country, but, on the contrary, will worsen it. After all, by trying to solve one problem, we are developing another, much more dangerous one: climate change.

A much safer solution seems to be the development of selective waste collection and maximum involvement in plastic recycling. The more that is sent to recycling, the less will end up in landfills. Recycling plastics requires much less energy and uses virtually no natural resources.

By the way, the largest volume of MSW (40%) comes from organic waste: food scraps. During the decomposition of organic matter, a large volume of “landfill gas” (methane CH4 and carbon dioxide CO2) is produced. The problem of global warming for our country today becomes increasingly urgent as the “garbage pyramids” that produce these emissions grow. Garbage can be collected and recycled: more and more waste recycling companies are appearing in Russia. But they all need high-quality raw materials and to obtain them it is necessary to establish a complete system of selective waste collection. For it to work, food and other organic waste must be collected separately from the “dry” fractions. Therefore, the creation of such a system becomes one of the key tasks of the State in building an economy of sustainable development.

Today, each of us can make our own contribution, however small, to the fight against global warming. For example, delivering plastic bottles for recycling, properly sorting garbage. Household disposals (disposers) installed under the sink effectively reduce the amount of food waste. They wash crushed food remains directly down the drain. In this way we reduce the amount of food waste in its total volume. Conscious consumption and proper waste disposal: all this will help us stop climate change.

* This website provides news content gathered from various internet sources. It is crucial to understand that we are not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information presented Read More

Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.
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