#SummerScienceFriday | Energy-Water Nexus Series: Plastic

 

“We are being choked to death by the amount of plastic that we throw away. It's killing our oceans. It's entering into our bodies in the fish we eat.”

 

-  Kevin Bacon

 

 

Plastic, plastic, everywhere!

We all have heard how bad plastic is. In fact, it is proposed that the plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish in the ocean as soon as 2050.  As #PlasticFreeJuly comes to an end, CWH is going deeper into the world of plastics to explore how plastics are wrapped into the water-energy nexus.

 

What is the water-energy nexus?

Energy production and water use are interdependent. Water is needed to produce energy (think thermal electric power plants, hydropower, and oil and gas extraction), while energy makes it possible for us to use water (think of the energy to transport water to be used in the public water supply, water infrastructure, irrigation, agriculture and food production). Energy production from burning fossil fuels has loaded the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, and significant driver of climate change. Climate change will increase the occurrence and severity of droughts and alter precipitation patterns, imposing severe threats to water supply around the globe and in the Los Angeles region. So what does this have to do with plastic? Well, the production and disposal of plastic is highly dependent on both energy and water, too.

 

Oil and natural gas are the major raw materials used to manufacture plastics. Components of crude oil or natural gas are converted into hydrocarbon monomers, which are further processed to make what we know as plastic (3). It takes at least double the water to produce a plastic water bottle as the amount of water contained in the bottle (4). Furthermore, plastic ends up in our water supplies in its original form or broken down into microplastics – tiny plastic particles that have a way of evading detectio