Greenhouse gases – the surprising, abstract and natural sources you may not be aware of

Greenhouse gases – the surprising, abstract and natural sources you may not be aware of

When we think of sources of greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution, it can be easy to get caught up in conventional stereotypes, conjuring up images of thick smoke pouring out of a factory chimney, a coal power station, or a highway congested with vehicles.

These situations are all stereotypes for good reason of course, all are major sources of environmental damage. When we look holistically at environmental damage however, we need to consider all sources of greenhouse gases, and some are much more unexpected and abstract than others.

Surprising sources of greenhouse gases

It is important to recognise that our environmental footprint is spread across a huge range of activities and goods, not just those we commonly associate with greenhouse gas emissions. Some sources of greenhouse gas emissions are well documented while others are yet to be quantified or even fully understood by science.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the fashion industry uses more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined – producing an estimated 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

Another surprising source of greenhouse gas emissions is watching YouTube videos. While Google (which owns YouTube) is powered by renewable energy, emissions are created at the viewers’ end from the energy used by network equipment and devices. When you consider that the world streams one billion hours of YouTube videos daily, it is easy to see how those emissions can add up.

Storing emails is another big energy consumer. If every person deleted just 10 emails, it would save 1,725,000 GB of data that is stored on servers around the world – this equates to 55.2 million kilowatts of power.

Natural sources of greenhouse gases

Interestingly, it is not only human activity that creates greenhouse gases. Natural processes and systems also produce emissions.

For example, as leaves fall from trees and decompose in soil they act as tiny sponges, soaking up water and creating a micro-habitat for bacteria that produces the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Wetland areas, permafrost, volcanoes, forest fires and even the ocean – which is classed as both a carbon sink and source – all produce greenhouse gas emissions.

While many natural processes such as these ones above create greenhouse gases, emissions are certainly exacerbated through human activity and intervention and nowhere is this more evident than in agriculture.

Agriculture and greenhouse gases

In our pursuit to produce increasing amounts of food for an ever-increasing population, we have revolutionised and commercialised agricultural processes, often to the detriment of our environment. Agricultural sources of greenhouse gases include cows and other livestock, due to the fermentation of plant matter in their stomachs, tilling or ploughing soil, fertiliser applied to crops, and decaying agri waste.

It is estimated that 71 percent of the world’s soil is currently under cultivation. When that soil is tilled or ploughed, large amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere.

In a domino effect, as the soils are tilled and ploughed, nutrient loss occurs which means more and more fertilisers are required to grow healthy crops. Most fertilisers, including manure, release nitrous oxide – a potent greenhouse gas that can stay in the atmosphere for more than 100 years.

Also a source of greenhouse gas emissions, agri waste is often burnt, left to decompose, or buried. In all three scenarios, greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

Spotlight on banana agri waste

Grown in more than 130 countries, banana is the second most-produced fruit after citrus, contributing to around 16 percent of world fruit production.

One banana tree produces just one bunch of bananas before it is cut down, which means that after harvest, almost 60 percent of biomass is left as waste. Worldwide, about 114.08 million metric tons of banana waste is produced, leading to environmental problems such as the excessive emission of greenhouse gases.

The Papyrus solution

In order to bring new value to this type of agri waste, Papyrus Australia has established a chemical-free process of converting banana agri waste into useful products. Not only does this reduce the generation of methane, but it also creates useful products that are sustainable alternatives to plastic and forest wood.

Papyrus Australia’s technology can be used to make a range of moulded food packaging products including plates, trays, cup holders, egg trays and clam shells.

Find out more about the Papyrus technology and its potential environmental impact here.