Plastic, a material that has now caused worldwide controversy after a global spread of pollution across our oceans; all thanks to its poor bio-degradable properties, human misuse and overall promotion of irresponsible environmental initiatives. Plastic packaging is causing issues for the environment.
Plastics that contain virgin resins, are a cheap alternative produced from petroleum or natural gas into small pellets known as ‘nodules’. The manufacture of these pellets alone is contributing to the depletion of natural resources, consuming 4% of the world’s oil supply. Although, it should be identified that plastic materials can be energy efficient, as it takes less energy during its manufacture then its rival glass material, including low transportation costs due to being lightweight and results in 40% less fuel for transportation.
Is there a more sustainable solution to plastic packaging?
It is without doubt plastics are a ‘wonder material’ they are adaptable and durable for most products, which has accelerated their production, but is there a more sustainable solution?
Over the last 65 years or so scientists have predicted 8.3 billion tonnes have been produced, with approximately 70% of this production present in our current waste streams – mostly sent to landfill.
Half of this material has been made within the last 13 years and current trends point to 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste by 2050. Waste deposited in landfill can reach harmful chemical levels, that spread into groundwater resources and contribute to contamination of the natural environment. When plastic products enter a water source whole, it can float around almost forever and endanger marine life.
It has been identified that most commonly used plastics are not biodegradable, providing few alternatives for disposal, following a decomposition process known as either pyrolysis or incineration through a thermal recovery facility. Although, the latter is further complicated by health and air quality concerns. Many animal studies suggest a developing link between exposure to chemicals and negative health outcomes, with findings of ‘micro-plastics’ in the bodies of marine life which demonstrates the reality of our environment.
Packaging is a short-use product that has poor recycling statistics, with only an estimated 9% of disregarded plastic being disposed of environmentally.
With raw material prices increasing, it is becoming more financially viable to recycle polymers. Including investment into innovative engineering and biological initiatives to create a more sustainable solution.
What is the solution to improving plastic packaging?
One solution is to treat plastic as a reusable material rather than a disposable commodity that can be carelessly discarded. Efforts towards increasing recycling facilities for this material and providing treatment to ensure it is suitable for its next process. Creating a sustainable culture through knowledge is highly advantageous and would increase recycling efforts for all our materials to ensure we reducing pollution rates.