Canadian Researcher Finds Plastic Degrading in the Ocean Is a Source of Greenhouse Gas Emissions


They don’t just pile up on the beach. Plastics end up in the ocean and start slowly degrading and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. This was the discovery of a team of researchers from the University of Hawaii – led by oceanographer Sarah-Jeanne Royer, who is a Quebec native.

Last week, their findings were published in the American scientific journal Plos One. Royer explained in an interview that in their study, researchers found that some common plastics emit greenhouse gases while they degrade:

“Aided by solar radiation, the plastic will degrade and become microplastic, and the more the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces, the more it will produce greenhouse gases.”

The research found that low-density polyethylene plastic which is found in plastic rings that hold bottles or cans, storage bags, and food packaging. On the Hawaiian coast, 90% of the plastic that arrives there is either the result of fishing industry, or it comes from Asia – with the ocean currents.

She explains that Asia doesn’t have a place to put their waste, so the garbage ends up on the coast, being picked up by the high tide.

After moving to work with the team of researchers from Hawaii in 2015, Royer was invited by California Gov. Jerry Brown to present their findings at San Diego in September, where she will be part of the global climate action summit.

The Longer We Wait…

Will the American study present an interest, considering that at the July G7 summit in Quebec Donald Trump’s administration didn’t sign an agreement on reducing plastic waste?

The plastic industry is not interested either, refusing to cooperate with the team:

“It was extremely difficult to communicate with them, and eventually they all told me they didn’t want to answer my questions or communicate with me. In my opinion, the plastic industries know [the effects of plastic] very well and don’t want to share it.”

Joining forces in the last years with Greenpeace and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Royer has informed the public on the latest matter of ocean pollution. She concludes that this issue must be solved – and fast:

“If we look at the last 70 years, all the plastic that has been produced is currently being degraded in the environment and producing greenhouse gases. So the longer we wait, the more will increase exponentially.”


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