The study Breaking the Plastic Wave, written in 2020 by Simon Reddy and Winnie Lau, found that the plastic problem is only getting worse with time despite recent initiatives to curb it.
So what is the problem with conventional plastic? And how can we find alternatives to plastic?
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The Issues with Plastic and Why We Need to Stop Using it So Much
There are many types of plastic but most of them are made from petroleum-based materials such as ethylene and propylene. Different additive chemicals are often used in the production of conventional plastic to give it some properties like colors, flexibility, durability, or transparency. Those additives such as phthalates or bisphenol A are well known by the scientific community and raised many concerns about their effects on our health.
Polystyrene and PVC plastics are also under scrutiny for their potential toxicity to humans and animals.
Plastic is made from petroleum, this resource is non-biodegradable and cannot be renewed. Non-biodegradable materials are manufactured materials that do not decompose naturally. This means that if plastic is released in the nature, it will stay there for hundred of years, sometimes thousands of years. Because of this, non-biodegradable materials can persist in the environment for centuries, causing pollution and harming ecosystems.
The production of plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and creates pollution.
Water and land poisoning
A study in the journal Science estimated that about 11 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year.
Those millions of tons of plastic waste hurt marine life and pollute the water. Indeed conventional plastic is not biodegradable therefore it often decomposes into tiny pieces known as microplastics. Microplastics are very difficult to clean up once they are in the oceans. Furthermore, those micro-particules of plastic are potentially toxic for the the organisms that eat them. According to the EPA “Researchers have found microplastics in a variety of the fish and shellfish that people consume. “. That would mean that not only we pollute the water and the aquatic organisms but we also contamine our own food with toxic plastics.
Scientists are warning that the long-term negative effect of microplastics in soils, sediments, and freshwater could have a detrimental impact on such ecosystems. Terrestrial microplastic pollution is about 23 times higher than marine microplastic pollution according to the UN Environment Programme.
First of all, not all kinds of plastics are recyclable.
- Plastic bags, straws, and coffee cups are not recyclable.
- Category 7 of plastics, used to make baby bottles, CDs, or car parts, for example, are non-recyclable.
- Plastic with food residue cannot be recycled, only clean plastic can. You would need to rinse them first.
- Plastic products made with multi-layers or materials are difficult to recycle because they require a special factory and techniques to process them
Even when it’s possible, recycling conventional plastic is difficult. The recycling market is subject to the same forces as any market. Is there a demand for it? Which company are willing to pay for recycled materials? Many cities don’t have the capacity or budget available to recycle efficiently their waste.
Only a small percentage of plastic gets recycled, and the rest often ends up in landfills or the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only about 34% of all waste is recycled. “In 2018, in the US landfills received 27 million tons of plastic.”
Finally, plastic cannot be recycled indefinitely because it’s losing its integrity and quality after a few recycling.
Plastic is everywhere
Plastic is everywhere in our lives. According to the (EPA), “Americans produce over 36 million tons of plastic waste per year.” Plastic is in the packaging of the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the products we use every day, here are a few examples:
- Home: windows, gutter, water pipes
- Clothes: synthetic fabrics
- Personal care: shampoo, creams, baby wipes, feminine hygiene
- Medical devices
- Packaging, the largest source of plastic waste, was 14.5 million in 2018.(5)
The Alternatives to Plastic
More and more companies are beginning to use stainless steel as an alternative to plastic. There are many reasons for this change, but the most important one is that stainless steel is a more sustainable material.
Not only is stainless steel more durable than plastic, but it can also be recycled infinitely without losing its quality. This makes it a much more sustainable option for people who are looking to reduce their environmental impact.
In addition to being more sustainable, stainless steel is also non-toxic and doesn’t leach chemicals. The material is more hygienic than plastic due to its non-porous feature. This makes it a safer option for food and beverage packaging.
A great example is the stainless steel water bottle used instead of the single-use plastics one.
Glass has been used for centuries and is still a popular choice for many products. Despite its long history, glass is often overlooked as a material for modern products. However, glass has some advantages that make it a good choice for many applications.
For one, glass is a natural material that is completely recyclable. Glass can also be reused many times without losing its quality. In addition, glass is non-toxic and does not release harmful chemicals into the environment.
Another advantage of glass is that it is very strong and durable. Glass can withstand high temperatures and is not easily damaged. This makes it ideal for products that will be used frequently or exposed to the elements.
If you are looking for an alternative to plastic, glass is a good option to consider.
Bamboo is a sustainable, renewable resource that can be used as an alternative to plastic. It is strong and durable, yet lightweight and easy to work with. Bamboo is also biodegradable and its production pollutes less the environment.
There are many ways to use bamboo in place of plastic. Bamboo can be used to make furniture, toys, utensils, and more. It is a versatile eco-friendly material that can be used in a variety of ways.
If you are looking for an alternative to plastic, bamboo is a great option.
Here’s another great eco-friendly alternative to plastic. Bioplastics are a type of plastic made from renewable or recycled materials. Unlike traditional plastics, which are made from fossil fuels, bioplastics are biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
There are several different types of bioplastics, each with its unique properties. For example, some bioplastics are stronger and more flexible than traditional plastics, while others are designed to degrade quickly in the environment.
Bioplastics have a wide range of applications, from packaging and food wrappers to medical implants and artificial limbs. As demand for eco-friendly products increases, bioplastics are expected to play a big role in the future of the plastics industry.
Wood is a sustainable, natural resource that can be used to replace plastic in many applications. Wood is strong and durable. It is also a biodegradable renewable material. Threes are known to help fight climate change by clearing the air we breath.
There are some disadvantages to using wood, such as the fact that it is not as easy to mold and shape as plastic. In some cases, wood is a great plastic-free alternative, especially for furniture and toys for example. For more details, check our article about sustainable furniture brands.
Paper is a biodegradable material that can be recycled, making it an eco-friendly alternative to plastic. Plus, there are a lot of great paper products out there these days, from reusable paper bags to compostable paper plates.
Next time you’re at the store, think about reaching for paper instead of plastic. Small change can make big differences to the environment.
Yes, you are reading correctly. Recycled plastics are also good alternatives to plastic. Recycled plastic is made from waste plastic that has been collected and reprocessed to create new plastic products. This process helps to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills or the ocean.
There are some drawbacks to recycled plastic, however. It’s often not as durable as virgin plastic but it’s becoming more popular as awareness of the environmental impact of plastic grows.
Natural fiber clothing and sustainable synthetic fiber
As the world becomes increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the clothing industry, many are searching for more sustainable alternatives to synthetic fibers. Natural fibers such as cotton and wool have long been used in clothing, but they come with their own set of environmental concerns. However, recent advancements in technology have made it possible to create more sustainable natural fibers that are less impactful on the environment.
Natural fibers are plastic-free but some synthetic fibers are also sustainable such as Lyocell, Econyl, Ecovero, and much more. More details, in our article about sustainable fabrics and green materials.
Plant-based plastics are a type of plastic that is made from plant materials instead of petroleum. These plastics are biodegradable and can be a great alternative to traditional plastics. Those plastic-free and eco-friendly alternatives tend to be more expensive than traditional plastics.
Bio-based plastics made from plants have many potential applications. They can be used to make packaging, food containers, and other disposables.
Planted-based plastics can be made from algae, banana, olive seed, cactus, or mushrooms.
Some of these innovations have been honoured by prestigious awards like this teen who invented banana-based plastic.
6 Easy Ways to Get Rid of Plastic Daily
- Use reusable water bottle instead of single-use plastics bottles,
- Use tote bags instead of plastic bags,
- Use solid cosmetics and skincare like solid shampoo or toothpaste to replace plastic bottles and tubes,
- Use natural fibers in clothing such as cotton, linen, or wool instead of synthetic fibers (polyester),
- Prefer second-hand products instead of buying new ones. If the desired product is not available, try a product made from recycled or eco-friendly materials,
- Prefer silicone plastic to regular plastic as it is not toxic and not a hazardous waste.
The authors of Breaking the Plastic Wave, do believe that we could “cut annual flows of plastic into the ocean by about 80% in the next 20 years by applying existing solutions and technologies.” By taking immediate and bold actions, we can still curve the pollution issue!
If you are looking for more options to live a sustainable life, you can also check our article about it.
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