Plastics and climate change: a major contributor to climate warming and harm to health

February 23, 2022 @ 10:00am (AKST)

Plastics have become an everyday part of our lives, including the  many unintended consequences of plastic production, use, and disposal. Chemicals added to plastics – to make them stronger, more flexible, or UV resistant – have been found to be toxic and have widespread adverse effects on environmental and human health. The production and disposal of plastics is unjustly concentrated near low-income communities and communities of color. To add to this list, and the subject of this webinar, it is clear from the findings of a recent report  that plastics are a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and climate warming.

Beyond Plastics’ recent report is entitled ‘The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change’. The report documents the ‘less-talked about’ relationship between plastics and greenhouse gas emissions, detailing the impacts of each stage of the plastic cycle from fracking and cracking of hydrocarbons to create plastic feedstocks, to off-gassing during their usable life, and the disposal of plastics through burial, incineration, and as litter. Motivated to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions, the US shut down many coal-fired power plants in recent years. However, the growing US plastics industry – this ‘New Coal’ – is on track to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than these reductions.

This topic is very relevant for Alaskans. Alaska and the circumpolar Arctic are warming three times as fast as the rest of the planet as a whole, disproportionately and adversely affecting Alaskans’ food security, transportation, and cultures. The north/Arctic is a hemispheric sink for persistent industrial chemicals and toxic plastics that are transported on atmospheric and oceanic currents from lower latitudes through global distillation. Accelerated melting of sea ice, permafrost, and glaciers is mobilizing sequestered contaminants and microplastics, threatening the health of our oceans, fish, wildlife, and peoples of the north.

‘The New Coal’ report:

Beyond Plastics Website:

Material Research Website:

Plastic and Climate Change: The Hidden Cost of a Plastic Planet (2019 Report led by Center for International Environmental Law)

Recording of Beyond Plastics webinar on the findings of their recent report, ‘The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change’:

Policy Resources:


  • Expanded Producer Responsibility for packaging legislation (proposed in Maine):
  • Federal Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (HR 5845, S 3263)
  • Model local bill – the “Plastics Trifecta” (foam food containers, plastic bags, plastic straws)
  • Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) and Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association (NWMOA). 2020. “White Paper on Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging and Paper Products.” April:

Films and Videos:

Reports & Articles:

Alaska Specific:

Featured speakers

Judith Enckis the founder and president of Beyond Plastics, an initiative that works on plastic pollution issues. She is a senior fellow and visiting faculty member at Bennington College where she teaches classes on plastics pollution. She is also a former EPA Regional Administrator and the former deputy secretary for the environment for the New York Governor’s Office.



Jim Vallette is the co-founder and president of Material Research L3C, a small, low-profit business based in Maine. Jim and his international team specialize in analyzing the global supply chains and impacts of toxic chemicals, greenhouse gases, and waste. Material Research primarily works with non-profit, academic, and government institutions, helping these organizations and individuals with research, analysis and presentation of information important to their respective mission.

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