Wherever you are at the moment, something around you is most likely made of plastic. Whether it’s your clothing, computer, food–packaging, pens or bottles, plastic items are everywhere. Sometimes, we fail to realize how essential plastic has become, and how much of a problem plastic waste has turned into.
But is plastic always bad? We’ve taken a closer look.
Let’s begin at the beginning.
Plastic, which is essentially a chain of synthetic polymers, was invented back in the mid-19th century. However, it was not until the 1970s that the material started to become hugely popular. Manufacturers replaced other material such as glass, metal or paper with the convenient, lightweight alternative. Plastic appeared to be a fantastic option. The rest as they say, is history.
Billions of metric tons of plastic have been produced since. The material has become so important to our modern lifestyle that it can be difficult to imagine life before the invention of plastic. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly hard to imagine life with the huge amount of waste accumulating in the oceans, on land and even in outer space.
The excessive production of plastic has come with an insurmountable environmental price that humanity will be paying off for millennia to come.
Are we digging our own grave with a plastic shovel?
Over the years, single-use plastic, in particular the incorrect disposal of the latter, has turned into an enormous problem. Similarly, plastic items that have served their purpose and are no longer wanted or needed, are equally problematic as a waste stream. But not all plastic can be demonised.
Plenty of positive changes can be achieved through innovations, and those certainly mean the world to people who rely on them. 3D-printed prosthetics can significantly improve the lives of those who have lost a limb. There are also numerous benefits for using plastics in other medically related areas.
Endless possibilities or a never ending curse?
The durability of plastic as a material has often been praised. These very same properties makes it hard, for plastics to be disposed of. While a park bench made of wood on average, will last about 20 years with care. Benches made of recycled plastic promise longevity. Plastic is used in construction; for seals, windows, doors, pipes, cables, floor coverings, and insulation. Roads where waste plastic is melted down and mixed with paving materials are becoming more common around the world. The inability of plastic to decay and become part of a natural cycle has thus far, turned it both into a blessing and curse.
Ultimately, it is the way we use and more importantly, re-use and recycle plastic that needs to change.
Creating a Circular Economy
There is the potential that plastic could technically be recycled again and again. A recent study revealed that an incredible 91% of all produced plastic is not being recycled at all. Instead, it is simply put into landfills or ends up in the environment.
According to Sibele Cestari, a research fellow at Queen’s University Belfast. Technologically, all polymers are 100% recyclable. Such recycled plastics may have lower mechanical properties compared to virgin plastics, because each time you melt and process a plastic, the polymeric chains degrade. But these properties can be recovered by mixing it to additives or virgin plastic.
One of the main problems currently faced is that, it can be unprofitable to recycle plastics. As a society, we fail to realise that all of this existing ‘waste material’ could be utilised to produce something useful.
The construction industry is an example. Where post-consumer plastics could be used to produce roof tiles, bricks or lumber. Not to mention, our very own BinForGreenSeas, which has recycled plastics in the resin used to manufacture it.
If we are to safeguard the future of the planet, it will become more and more important to create essential items out of already existing material. In short, it is time for humanity to be creative and find more ways to reduce, re-use and recycle plastic and stop the suffering and the death of millions of animals from it.