Plastic pollution is glutting our oceans and waterways and has increasingly become a major threat to humans, wildlife, and plants since plastic contains so many toxic compounds.

As if we needed more reasons to end plastic pollution, a new study by Sarah-Jeanne Royer et al. has discovered that plastic waste, when exposed to sunlight, will emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. That’s right, even after it is out of sight and out of mind, plastic will find a way to cause harm to our planet. The new study showed that plastic will release methane and ethylene when exposed to sunlight. This happens to both plastic in the water and plastic in the air, but it happens faster in the air.

The concluding remarks of the study drive home the significance of this discovery: “Given the ongoing rate at which plastic is being produced, used and exposed on land and the future trend in mismanaged plastic waste ending up in marine systems, the amount of plastic exposed to the environment will likely increase with time and so too will the amount of CH4 and C2H4 emitted from polymers. In addition, degradation of plastics in the environment leads to the formation of microplastics with greater surface area, which may accelerate hydrocarbon gas production. Due to the longevity of plastics and the large amounts of plastic persisting in the environment, questions related to the role of plastic in the CH4 and C2H4 global budgets should be prioritized and addressed by the scientific community.”

If you need help cutting back on your own creation of plastic pollution, we’re here to help. Check out our Plastic Pollution Primer and Action Toolkit for everything you need on our collective endeavor to end plastic pollution. After that, you can use the Plastic Pollution Footprint Calculator to track how much plastic you are consuming, then take steps to reduce it.