2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent is from world’s production and use of plastics

* As Global experts on plastics call for action on climate impacts of plastics

* Plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions are not sufficiently addressed

By Leonard Masauli, MANA

About two billion tonnes of the equivalent of carbon dioxide (Co2e) is from the world’s production and use of plastics — according to a report presented at the United Nations Environmental Assembly 6 (UNEA-6) conference held from February 29 to March 1 in Nairobi, Kenya.


The report, ‘Global actions to stem climate change and end plastic pollution’ by GRID-Arendal — a non-profit environmental communications centre based in Norway — investigates what needs to be addressed in the new international treaty to tackle the challenges of plastics in connection with climate change.

Global experts on plastics have since called for countries to immediately act on climate impacts and Managing Director for GRID-Arendal, Karen Landmark said the focus on pollution has for long been that it is a pollution problem.

The report highlights another problematic aspect of plastics such as its impact on climate, which largely stems from the production of plastic and plastic products.

“We believe it is essential to bring these findings to the attention of policymakers, making sure the international efforts are aimed at addressing this issue with plastic.

“Our analysis highlights that plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions are not sufficiently addressed,” said Landmark, who added that greenhouse gases are emitted throughout the entire life cycle of plastics, estimated as between 3.8% and 4.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Weather update

“This will only grow as production of plastic continues to grow. Plastic pollution is accelerating climate change and making the impact of climate change worse.

“To achieve the most significant impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the most time and energy should be dedicated to minimising plastic production,” Landmark said.

Senior expert on plastic and one of the authors on the new report, Leva Rucevska, said plastic pollution is making climate change worse and there is need for linkages between plastics and the triple planetary crisis.

“To search for solutions and minimise harmful impacts on the environment and people, plastic action is climate action,” Rucevska said.

UNEA-6 is a political platform bringing together environment ministers from 193 member countries to set priorities for the global environmental agenda and among others, the UNEA-6 focused on the links between the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

Malawian environmental activist, Charles Bakolo said the country requires an urgent action in waste management infrastructure and policies to effectively tackle plastic pollution.

Situation in Malawi on plastic pollution

Bakolo said despite ongoing efforts to collect waste, the rates remain insufficient, resulting in a considerable amount of plastic finding its way to the environment through various channels adding that lack of proper landfill facilities worsens the problem, with wastes often ending up in open dumpsite.

“For Malawi, it is important to acknowledge both progress made and areas needing improvement,” he said. “While waste collection efforts are in place, there is a clear need for more strategies which include reducing plastic usage, increasing recycling rates and stricter regulation and plastic production and disposal.

“Public awareness could also play important role for citizens to practice responsible waste management to reduce the negative environmental impacts of the plastics,” Bakolo said.

A report published by Tanzania Digest in October drew attention to a more critical crisis in the era of climate change — the presence of microplastics in the clouds, a synthetic material created by a chemical process which comprises elements like polyester, nylon polymers, or wood pulp.

It can be found in synthetic garments (clothing produced with plastic instead of natural threading like cotton), plastic tarps, vehicle tires, synthetic ropes, fishing gear, etc. They are a form of microplastic (plastic particles smaller than 5mm in diameter) shaped like a fibrous substance.


According to research, the shape of these fibres can be more harmful to marine or aquatic life than spherical microplastic beads or other microplastics with smooth surfaces because the fibres have a larger surface area (more area for toxic substances to adhere to) and are more able to tangle and catch on to things.

The report emphasised that plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to humanity today and quoting a research, people and animals, both through water and food, consume and inhale substantial amounts of microplastics. Microplastics have been found in various organs of living beings and corpses, including the lungs, heart, blood, placenta, and excrement.

“Plastics are designed to be durable, so they may remain inside the body for long periods without the possibility of these being broken down or removed,” the report quoted Lauren Jenner, a postgraduate researcher at the Hull York Medical School as published by Yale School of the Environment.

“Plastic is inextricably connected to air pollution. Microplastics from plastic debris that build up on land eventually enter the ocean. These tiny plastic particles enter the atmosphere when they are released along with ocean spray.

“Plastic manufacturing produces greenhouse gases and other pollutants that pollute the air and contribute to climate change and other environmental issues,” she said.

Plastic air pollution

Almost 40% of the world’s plastic waste is burned down, releasing toxins into the atmosphere. A study released in 2021 linked smog (a mix of smoke and fog) in India, notably in Delhi, to the burning of plastics.

The report further said although research on airborne microplastics in African skies hasn’t been published, it cannot be ascertain that its skies aren’t affected, and that its soils aren’t contaminated by toxins from plastic rainfall.

“After all, Africa produces 5% of global plastic and consumes 4%,” said Tanzania Digest in its analysis of the research. “Rising populations and urbanisation fuel increased single-use plastic, worsening environmental pollution and health risks.

“Leaders in Africa, non-governmental stakeholders, and the general public must all accept responsibility for human actions that cause plastic pollution.

“To protect both human and environmental health, it is imperative that the current systems be redesigned and that financial solutions be found to eradicate plastic pollution and mitigate the effects of climate change.”—Additional reporting by Duncan Mlanjira, Maravi Express