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Plastic Pollution and Climate Change


Plastic Pollution and Climate Change

With 460 million tons of plastic produced each year, plastic waste is a growing concern for our planet. But is all this plastic causing climate change?

How does plastic contribute to climate change?


Climate change is caused by carbon pollution from fossil fuels, which stays in our atmosphere, acting like a blanket and causing the earth to overheat. Since plastic production requires burning fossil fuels, it is making climate change worse. But it’s not the leading cause – across the world, manufacturing plastic causes just over 3% of the world’s carbon pollution each year, about the same amount as aviation. Generating electricity for our homes and buildings and global transportation produces a much larger share of carbon pollution—about as much global warming as all the airplanes flying around the world.

Why is plastic bad for the environment?


The problem with plastic doesn’t end with its contribution to climate change. We’re throwing it away in huge amounts – about 400 million tons of plastic waste every year. Plastic essentially stays around in the environment forever, breaking down into increasingly smaller pieces over hundreds of years. And bits of plastic pollution are everywhere – in our rivers and oceans where they harm ecosystems and wildlife, in our groundwater, and in our own bodies. 


How does recycling help climate change?


Recycling can help climate change a little bit because recycled plastic reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 42% compared with creating plastic with new materials. But there are limits to the benefits of trying to recycle plastic, because only 9% of plastic is successfully recycled globally, including just 4% in the United States. And because plastic degrades during the recycling process, it can usually only be recycled once or twice before it becomes waste.


But recycling isn’t a lost cause. Plastic bottles with the number 1 or 2 inside the recycling symbol are successfully recycled almost 30% of the time. While reducing and reusing plastic materials are the best options for the planet and its climate, recycling these types of plastic does help a bit. And other materials like aluminum and glass can be recycled much more effectively than plastic.

Plastics and climate change

How you can help protect your community


If we act now, we can preserve the planet (and human health) for generations to come.


Join CCL to stop the pollution that’s overheating the planet. By becoming a part of CCL, you’ll connect with a nonpartisan group of neighbors who share your commitment to keeping your community healthy and safe for future generations. 


Here’s what you can do right now:

Volunteer locally



How you can help for the long term:

Charge corporate polluters a fee for their carbon pollution

Support climate-smart forestry

Ask your House Representative to support the Energy Innovation Act

Sign up to volunteer

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