Problems with Plastics

The Problem of Plastic

It is often said that problem is not with the plastic (since it is inert) but is with the disposal of plastic (because it is inert).

  1. Excessive Molecular Size
  2. Not Biodegradable
  3. Long-ever Persistence
  4. Aesthetic Nuisance
  5. Drain on Limited Natural Resources
  6. Found in guts of grazing animals and marine fish
  7. Unsightly Heaps
  8. Chocked Drains
  9. Soil Erosion (As Grass does not grow) – Hillsides of HP
  10. Recycling and Reuse low
  11. Non-renewable (geological timeframes to produce but 1 to 10 years to consume)
  12. Demand and production skyrocketing

Problems with Existing Plastics

Polymer Common Applications Health Issues /Aesthetic Nuisance
Polycarbonate (PC) baby bottles, sports water bottles can leach out bisphenol A, a hormone disruptor
Polystyrene (PS) foam insulation, packaging peanuts, plastic utensils, meat trays, egg cartons, take-out containers, single-use disposable cups Uses benzene, styrene and 1,3-butadiene. Styrene is a neurotoxin and is known to be toxic to the reproductive system. PS releases toxic chemicals when burned.
Polyvinyl Chloride
(PVC or vinyl)
building pipes, siding, membrane roofing, flooring, and window frame; shower curtains, beach balls, credit cards, cooking oil bottles Made from the vinyl chloride monomer; high chlorine and additive content. Toxic additives such as phthalate softeners leach out. PVC releases dioxin and other persistent organic pollutants.
Polyethylene (PE) Polyethylene films are used to make agricultural mulch films, garbage bags, paper coatings, laminating materials and other products. Because they don’t degrade in the environment, they can cause severe pollution problems. Bags litter beaches and streets. Plastics can harm wildlife, especially aquatic animals. Mulch films can block underground water circulation and hurt soil quality.

Recycling Plastics

Oil-based plastics don’t degrade, but many types (including PP, LDPE, HDPE, PET, and PVC) can be recycled. Each type has a code and identifying number, but some plastics aren’t as economically feasible to recycle. So it’s important to check with recycler or municipality about which types of plastics will be accepted.

Once collected, plastics go through the following steps

  • Inspection to weed out contaminants and inappropriate types of plastic
  • Shredding and washing
  • Separation based on density
  • Drying
  • Melting
  • Draining through fine screens to remove more contaminants
  • Cooling and shredding into pellets
  • Selling back to plastic companies

Although plastics do pose disposal problems, recycling is always a possibility.

The most commonly used types of plastics are PO, PP, PS, PVC, PET, PC, PET, PU, polyacrylates, polyvinyl acetates, and polyamides. These synthetic polymers are typically made from the naphtha fraction of petroleum or natural gas; and are heavy pollutants as they are not biodegradable.

Burning plastic wastes has not been an option either, as toxic gases such as hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen chloride are emitted. Attempts to accelerate biodegradation via additives such as chemicals, oxygen, and UV additives have not resulted in meaningful measurable reduction.

Question is

1)    Do we want Plastics?

2)    Do we want all plastic material that is biodegradable or of ‘limited life’?

3)    Can we reduce generation of plastic wastes?

4)    Can we improve management of plastic wastes?

5)    Should we find ecofriendly alternatives?

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