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Plastics friend or foe?

By 03/04/2018June 7th, 2018No Comments

The last few months have brought plastic under the spotlight, spawning hundreds of opinion pieces about how plastic is destroying our planet. We have seen this on the news or nature documentaries such as David Attenborough’s Blue planet II. At the beginning of the year we heard the UK Governments 25 year plan, high street supermarket Iceland made a pledge to be entirely plastic free by 2023. It can be seen throughout our local shops they are also trying to keep up with this demand by customers to help support the eco system and go plastic free, but what does this really mean?

 

Alternatives need to be found and sourced from responsible means. What alternatives?

You might automatically think paper bags rather than plastic, right? Well this is an option but prices are due to increase as this is everyone’s go to option, but this is not without its downsides. The main downside it this resource is not unlimited, measures can and are being taken such as planting new trees each time a product is produced. This is a slow process to recuperate the supply; we need to also be mindful that this is also habitat to hundreds of critters. Trees are also needed to keep producing fresh air and we all need this, so if we go cutting them all down for paper bags then what will we have to clean our atmosphere?

Instead of plastic packaging we could go with cardboard for some items? This is again another drain on the resource paper, this is where companies have to think outside the box and try new things to find a happy medium. The Green Alliance fears that a demand for plastic substitutes could also increase the pressure for deforestation. This would in turn lead to more greenhouse gases that would warm and acidify the oceans people are anxious to protect.

Bioplastics are being tested, but are they better for the world than plastic?

Biodegradable plastics are made from conventional petroleum based plastics, but also contain chemical additives.  These additives cause the plastic to break down more rapidly when exposed to air and light, but could take anywhere between 2-5 years to break down, if not longer. The other type of biodegradable plastic is known as bioplastic.  Bioplastics tend to be made from plant biomass, such as corn starch, sugar cane or wheat, and should either completely and rapidly break down naturally, or be compostable. This is good right??

 

It is good; providing the end waste product is disposed of in the correct manner, for biodegradable products to be able to biodegrade there needs to be heat, light and oxygen. If these biodegradable materials end up in landfill sites they will not biodegrade as the conditions are not correct and they will be almost fossilised. It is also not possible for the biodegrading process to start if you thought you could place them in your composter; this is believed to be due to the ammonia gases released by the compost and an additive in the biodegradable plastic that are not compatible.

 

Food for thought…

Plastic is non-biodegradable, but most of them are recyclable. Is it just laziness of the ‘throwaway society’ to why there is so much waste plastic reaching our Oceans?! If people would recycle correctly and invest more in ways of recycling it more efficiently would this not help resolve this issue? Making changes to buying habits such as alternative carrier bag options and how much packaging is on our products is a positive step. Why not solve the problem we have caused in the most reasonable way?

So where do solutions lie?

Green Alliance suggests:

  • Ban products that are unnecessarily made from plastic and likely to be littered, like cotton buds and straws (Scotland has already committed to this).
  • Stop using so many different types of plastic – and ensure that all types used are easily recyclable.
  • Develop recycling markets for the materials that remain.