As World Environment Day takes place in June, we’re all looking at nature and wondering what we can do to make things better. The natural world is in a bad state and it’s humanity’s fault. While we have created incredible things in the modern age, including food and healthcare that have raised the living standards of billions of people, that has come at a price.
Plastic is a major contributor to both progress and pollution. Even as a manufacturer of plastic products, we believe that a lot more should be done to curtail the world’s irresponsible use of plastics. But we also know that plastic is an incredible material and worth celebrating. The problem isn’t always plastic itself, but how we use plastic.
Plastic lasts longer
One problem with plastic is that it can take a very, very long time to be broken down into organic matter. Much of the plastic waste has been accumulating for decades. From this point of view, we thoroughly agree that more should be done to reduce the reliance on traditional plastic packaging and to encourage recycling.
But plastic’s resilience is also a good thing. For example, an underground septic tank made from plastic is more resilient against wear-and-tear than metal alternatives and thus less likely to cause a devastating and polluting sewage spill. Likewise, a plastic water tank will keep water safe for longer, with little chance of contamination, and resist environmental punishment such as sunlight. Plastic pipes are crucial to keeping everything from water to high-speed internet cables safe from the elements.
Plastic’s resilience ensures the modern world can keep running. It needs to be replaced less often because it doesn’t get corroded as easily. In our disposable society, the right plastic products actually mean more permanence and sustainability.
Plastic is efficient
Plastic has environmental benefits. It can take considerably less to manufacture plastic than using other materials. Iron and steel involve vast mining and smelting processes that have huge environmental impacts.
There are many different types of plastic resins, the ingredient used to create plastic products. Some result from petrochemical processes, which are also not great for the environment. But these have been increasingly subject to better processes and standards. There has also been a strong rise in using recycled plastic, which takes a lot of environmental strain from manufacturing.
Plastic is not less environmentally sound than metal or even wood. It depends a lot on how the resource material was harvested and created, and how the final products are made. Though many plastic products could still be made in more environmentally sound ways, many already are.
The plastics industry has not been standing still. Recycling of plastic is a major area where more can be done to reduce risk to the environment. It is a sad fact that more than 90 percent of plastics aren’t recycled: if this can be fixed, it would make a huge difference.
Plant-based plastics are becoming more common and popular. There are even cars made from this type of plastic, such as Ford’s Fusion Energi. Though only a concept car, it shows that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Scientists are also making other breakthroughs, such as new types of bacteria that can break plastics down to their chemical ingredients, making it easier to recycle plastic and retain a high level of quality.
There is definitely a problem between a greener world and our massive use of plastic. But we often forget that the modern world relies on plastic and there aren’t suitable alternatives to do the things plastic does so well. For example, plastic is the reason why modern food is so abundant and affordable, because it has drastically reduced waste due to spoilage.
The answer is not to get rid of plastic, but to use plastic in smarter, better and greener ways.