As a material, plastics are everywhere surrounding us at all times. This material has made it possible to have a variety of products available making life more efficient, although its difficulty began with the huge amount of waste we have left behind as a result of the industrial revolution era we live in.
HOW ARE PLASTICS PRODUCED?
The way plastic is extracted and manufactured ignites an irreversible toxic cycle. Extraction is the first stage where companies get the coal, crude oil and natural gas out of the ground through large-scale mining and drilling operations. This procedure also contains an extremely dangerous technique called "fracking". By digging deep holes into the ground, they damage the soil and as a result this treatment makes the base more susceptible to natural disturbances, landslides and floods. In addition, extraction companies usually dump all the rocks and soil they excavate near waterways, blocking water flow and disturbing the ecosystem. "Fracking" leaves behind a lagoon of liquids containing radioactive materials, heavy metals and various toxins that release toxic chemicals into the air which are carcinogenic. This mostly affects the working staff who are exposed directly to the toxins.
The second stage continues with refining and cracking, where refinery plants process fossil fuels to obtain the chemical components (ethane and propane) needed for plastic production. The technique called cracking then breaks the complex molecules that make up ethane and propane into smaller, lighter and more functional parts known as ethylene and propylene. This phase is extremely dangerous and also releases countless toxic chemicals into the air that negatively affect our planet’s climate and our health.
Processing and production takes ethylene and propylene by modifying them with a number of chemical additives that produce different types of resin which are poured into lenticular pellets. Processing and production release highly toxic substances into the air playing a major role in changing the climate of our planet and introducing serious health problems. In addition, many small plastic beads are thrown away by these companies finding their way into our oceans and soil, where they endanger sea life, land and all ecosystems irrevocably.
SINGLE USE PLASTIC
Single-use plastics prioritize convenience over durability and reusability, and are ultimately used only once ending up in the trash. Worldwide, about 380 million tons of plastic (which by measure weigh as much as the entire weight of the world's population) are produced, of which 40% of the production is plastic that we use only once in a lifetime, making it the main culprit of the "throw-away" society. Many of these products have a lifespan of minutes or hours in our hands, but when they end up on the ground they remain there for hundreds of years. Apart from the fact that it takes a very long time for it to degrade, they never decompose completely and they get crushed on the ground by friction slowly transforming into microplastics and even nanoplastics which negatively impact our ecosystems.
Once upon a time we could not have access to products that are produced from different natural territories because their import/export meant that they could spoil very quickly along the way. Plastics have made it possible for different countries of the world to have monetary income based on the import/export of their products (eg all dairy products, meats, etc.) without worrying about the fact that their products would expire soon. This opportunity was provided because plastics as a material are cheap, durable and they block the air out by creating a vacuum inside the container so the food stays fresh. In addition to these facts, as the cheapest known material on the market, this has made it quite easy for industries not to bother dealing with the former waste they’ve created. Because of its low price as a raw material, for these companies it is more advantageous, profitable and cheaper to buy it new rather than recycling it which costs more time and money but initially keeps the environment safe.
These non-sustainable goods use plastics as their packaging to keep them from being spoiled so when you buy something to eat, you take it off your food and throw it in the trash, turning the very durable, life-long material into a single-use plastic. This throw-away mindset has given shape to a global problem which has led to overconsumption of goods and services of things we don’t even need and an out-of-control growth of the population where we all leave residue behind to pile up for the next generation to deal with as a result.
Some examples of the types of plastics that people commonly use in everyday life are:
Category (1) PET/Polyester - bottles of water, juices, carbonated drinks, tetra packs, bottles of shampoos for body or hair, bottles of hand shampoos, food packaging that we take-away, etc.
Category (2) HDPE/High Density Polyethylene - children's toys, food storage containers, waste and recycling containers, road signs, chemical containers, pipe system, garbage containers, plastic bags, lining of cereal boxes, flower pots, etc.
Category (3) PVC/Polyvinyl Chloride - floors such as in sports fields or commercial buildings, water pipes, roofs of houses, side walls, automotive coatings, protective coatings from toxins or chemicals, shower curtains, tents, etc.
Category (4) LDPE/Low-Density Polyethylene - mostly used for bags and covers, grocery bags, plastic wrap and film, wire insulation, frozen foods, squeezable bottles like ketchup, mustard, etc., dressings for tetra packs such as milk or fruit juices, etc.
Category (5) PP/Polypropylene - used for very hot items such as hot food containers, furniture, low friction applications such as gears in machinery and vehicles, bottles of chemicals such as cleaning products, bleaches and first aid products, camping tools, thermal vests, syringes, pill containers, shampoo caps, car parts and even baby diapers.
Category (6) PS/Polystyrene - refrigerators, ovens, microwaves, vacuum cleaners, blenders, air conditioners, meat and bread packaging, egg cartons, some coffee cups and their lids, plastic plates, all containers and packaging for food that we order from restaurants or bars, bicycle helmets, etc.
Category (7) Other (Contains all plastics that are not identified from 1-6 and those that are mixed with other types of plastics such as bioplastics, better known in this group is polycarbonate or PC) - baby bottles, bottle coolers, car parts, nylon, CDs, glasses, mobile phones etc.