Can We Be Fully Plastic-Free Now?
If we take a look around, we’ll notice that we are surrounded by plastic. From our toothbrush to our gadgets, plastics have quickly made their way into our lives and has been dominating for decades. We are extremely dependent on plastic without even realizing it. And now, can we be completely plastic-free? The answer is no. The mess we have created might not be able to disappear all at once. However, some changes in lifestyle might help create a better environment and reduce the production of plastics. But before that, we need to understand how big the problem is.
What Is Plastic?
Plastic needs no introduction. It has been playing a significant role in our lives for quite a few decades now. After long extensive research and multiple trials, first originated in 1907, a fully synthetically made Bakelite was made by Leo Baekeland, who later named it ‘plastic’ meaning capable of being shaped and moulded.
Plastic is a polymer formed from the long chains of carbon atoms. The chain’s backbone is the main part of the structure whereas the side chains connected to the backbone chain alter which influences and determine the properties of the structure.
The Need Of Plastic?
Human’s reckless behaviour and increased demand for non-renewable resources were creating a threat of the depletion of this material faster than we could expect. In the beginning, plastic was hailed for its properties and we accepted it with a clean conscience. Before its invention, we were highly dependent on the material which nature offered. Whether it be glass, steel or ivory, plastic not just helped to save our resources but even wildlife by preventing the hunting of animals for tusks or antlers.
Today, plastic dominates our lives massively and is indispensable to modern life. It is inexpensive, sterile and convenient and its invention changed our lives. From the pharmaceutical industry to the cosmetic industry to the manufacturing industry to the electronic and textiles, there is heavy reliability observed on plastics. Plastics are used in a wide variety of products and have replaced other materials that were previously used for the applications that plastics now dominate such as wood, metal, and glass thanks to their exceptional properties like durability, strength, resistance against water, chemicals and heat made it extensively popular. With all these properties, plastic not just stayed confined to industries but also became a household name very quickly.
Threats Of Plastic
If we take a quick glance around us right now, we can find a minimum of 5 things around us made up of plastic.
The increased demand for plastic in our daily needs has triggered an immense rate of plastic production. Global plastics production reached 368 million metric tons in 2019 with China being one of the largest producers of plastic contributing more than 1 quarter of the global production. And we don’t stop here. According to a report issued by the World Economic Forum, production is expected to double in the next 20 years. The graph below shows the projected four-fold increase in production tonnage by 2050.
In short, plastic has been a boon to humans, however, is it worth it?
Drawback Of Plastic
1. Long Life Span
The biggest drawback of plastic which we realized after using it for decades and creating heaps of it, is its long life span. You cannot break plastic nor you could leave a bunch of worms on it to degrade it. The process, photodegradation is the only way plastic can be degraded. It requires sunlight to break the bonds that hold the strong and long molecular chains together but this process can take up to many years.
Plastic can survive for years without damage but this property of plastic has major threats to the environment.
Created to avoid an environmental catastrophe, our overconsumption and reliability of the material have led us to walk on the same path of destruction again. The figures clearly show that we went overboard with plastic and the alarmingly high rate of plastic production has put the environment at threat.
2. Depletion of non-renewable sources to produce plastic.
Besides that, plastic is a fossil fuel product. Plastic is made from oil and natural gas molecules extracted from oil and gas which are further processed to make plastic. In order to meet the supplies, we are using our fossil fuels which are not only limited but also non-renewable.
Then what is the solution?
Attempts To Be Plastic-Free
1. By Incineration
Incineration is the waste treatment process that involves the combustion of waste at high temperatures. The heat produced from combustion can be recovered and converted to electric power. Burning plastic and other municipal waste can produce enough heat and steam to turn turbine blades and generate electricity. The Waste-to energy sector is likely to witness growth in the coming years but how feasible is incineration?
The incineration of plastic is an expensive process and has tendencies of emitting low-level toxins like dioxins, acid gases, and heavy metals. They not only pollute the air but are a serious threat to water bodies.
Recycling is an intensive process. Although it was considered as one of the ways to get rid of the plastic which we have already created it isn’t a permanent solution. Even though it seems to be a decent approach but most of the plastic produced isn’t recyclable. According to the report of National Geographic, almost 91 per cent of plastic doesn’t get recycled which mean only around 9 per cent is being recycled.
Only 9 per cent of the million metric tons we produced. The biggest hurdle in the process of recycling is the collection of plastic on a wider scale.
Besides, every time, plastic is recycled, the product obtained is weaker than the original product, and eventually, there comes a point where the plastic has to be disposed of because of the decline in the quality.
Despite all the good properties, plastic has been turning into a curse for humans and our wildlife. Our oceans are becoming a dump yard of plastic which is creating a threat to our aquatic life. Scientists believe that 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons enter the ocean in a year.
The Solution Now
As the name suggests, this plastic which is made up of biodegradable resources is called bioplastic. They can be starch-based, protein-based or cellulose-based. For example- Polylactic acid (PLA). They are derived from plant sugars. They are a polysaccharide, which is long chain of sugar molecules fused together to form a structure. Bioplastics are able to biodegrade in different environments hence they are more acceptable than conventional plastics.
2. Minimizing The Use Of Plastic
Minimizing the use of plastic in our daily life might not help the situation entirely but will be a strong contribution towards reducing plastic production. The new and sustainable way of living can help us live a plastic-free life. We should learn to adopt the alternative to plastics, in order to prevent plastic waste. Careful and cautious use of plastic will certainly help in saving the environment.
Our Final Thoughts
We have already got over boarded with plastic. The answer to whether we can be completely plastic-free is no. However, measures should be taken to minimize the use of it. It’s high time to make choices wisely now. Plastic is very dangerous to the environment and its alternatives should be bought into our lives.
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