What’s the deal with plastic?
Plastic. It seems to be the answer to everything these days doesn’t it? The majority of us know the damage it’s causes our planet so why do we keep buying and throwing away plastic? Well it simply comes down to the fact that it is almost impossible to avoid. Plastic is everywhere! Even in some teabags. Yes, tea bags.
Plastic started to become popular in the 1950s, it became the wonderful substance that began to be used for everything because it was easy and cheap to make, plus we didn’t have to clean it and reuse it. We just threw it in the bin! Of course, no one thought of what damage this could end up doing, and the craziest thing to think is that plastic made back then will still be around now. And that is the biggest issue; most plastics don’t biodegrade. It doesn’t breakdown like what paper or cardboard does. Why? Because nearly all plastic is made from PET or polyethylene terephthlate, if you want to get technical, and this compound is nearly indestructible. It is nearly impossible to decompose PET plastics simply because bacteria cannot break them down.
In the 1950s there was only around 2.3 million tons of plastic produced globally, today it is up around 448 million tons. Since 2000 plastic production almost doubled. 44% of all plastic ever manufactured was done so from this year. Half of all the worlds plastic is made in Asia with a massive 29% in China alone and in the last 10 years alone we have produced more plastic than in the entire last century. What is so ridiculous is how plastic is being used now, we wrap anything and everything up in plastic. We even wrap fresh fruit and vegetables in plastic.
40% percent of plastic that is produced is only produced for the packaging of a product. It is used once and the thrown away, to be dumped into landfills or into our oceans. Some 18 billion pounds of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year. That’s the equivalent of five grocery bags of plastic trash sitting on very foot of coastline around the world. And you may be thinking ‘But I can't see any?’, don’t worry it's there. There are billions and billions, trillions in fact, of micro plastics floating around in our oceans and our sea animals and sea life are eating this plastic. It is estimated that over 90% of seabirds have consumed plastic, which is now sitting in their stomachs and 1 in 3 species of marine animals have been found tangled in plastic litter. How would you like to drinking plastic every time you have a glass of water? How would you like to be stepping over and getting caught up in plastic rubbish every day?
But don’t we send our plastic waste to be recycled? Yeah, nah you don’t. Recycling is pretty much a sham. Less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled globally. And not all plastic can be recycled. Here is a list of some of the things that can’t be recycled:
- Plastic bags – not recyclable
- Straws – not recyclable
- Coffee cups – you need a special machine, without it, no. And you have to separate the paper exterior from the plastic interior.
- Keyboards – maybe, but you have to take it to the right person
Not all plastic is created equally. Plastic are classified into 7 categories according to Resin Identification Codes (RIC). The difference between them is the temperature at which the material is heated. Their numerical classification (1-7) only informs you what type of plastic it is. For example, Number 1 (PET Plastics), (water bottles) have the highest recycling value. But remember to keep them out of direct sunlight to prevent toxins leaking into the container (really bad for your health!). And Number 7 (Other) is the category that contains all non-recyclable materials.
What the number don’t tell you is how bad plastic can be for your health. Plastic has been linked to disrupting hormonal growth and carcinogens. Or how plastic is made. Most plastics originate from crude oil. Only plastics that are label PLA are made from the sugars in corn or other plant-based starches. And of course, the recyclability, oftentimes we will just throw things away into the recycling w=having faith that they will be recycled just because the label says it can be. But that isn't always the case. and you can’t recycle dirty plastic! So, make sure to rinse and clean any plastic that is to be recycled.
Recycling plastic downgrades it’s quality. So, every time plastic is recycled the ‘polymer chain’ grows shorter so its quality decreases. The same piece of plastic can be recycled about 2-3 times before its quality decreases to the point where it is no good. But on the other hand, glass and metal can be recycled infinitely! Yep that’s right! Glass and metal (including aluminum) can be recycled and reused infinitely without losing quality or purity in the product.
To add, there are 2 types of ‘plastics’: thermoset and thermoplastics. Thermoplastic are plastics that be remelted and remolded into new products and therefore recycled. The thermoset plastics contain “contain polymers that cross-link to form an irreversible chemical bond,” meaning that no matter how much heat you apply they cannot be remelted into something new.
We unfortunately live in what I call a ‘Plastic World’. From the clothes that you wear to the food that we eat, plastic is everywhere. It has become a staple for all families and communities around the world. Given that the amount of plastic we have on earth and the fact that scientists estimate that it takes anywhere from 400-1000 years for it to decompose (with some saying it never will) it is so important that we learn more about plastics, but we also learn to say no to buying plastic where we can avoid it.
And always remember that water companies don’t sell water, they sell plastic bottles.