Plastic fantastic (or not) – the problem

Last week I talked about how my brain was ready to explode from all the new information I’ve been taking on over the last few months.

One of the areas that has really blown my mind is around plastics.

To be honest, I’ve never really thought twice about plastics. It’s useful, and I’ll pop it in the recycling box. That’s the beginning and end of the time I spend thinking about plastics.

Then I heard a fact that all the plastic that has ever been created STILL EXISTS. In fact plastic lasts for 500 YEARS. That means that the plastic that we consume will still be around for multiple generations. Every single piece of plastic we use: every disposable plastic fork; every bottle of water; every shopping bag – will last for hundreds of years.

But that’s ok, right? Because we can recycle plastic! Job done. Problem solved.

(Insert buzzer noise that indicates the answer is wrong).

In fact there are lots of misconceptions I had about plastic. And a whole heap of problems that I am still learning about. For those new to plastic (not so) fantastic, here are the core challenges we face with plastics.

Not so recyclable after all

So here I was thinking that you buy a bottle of water, recycle the bottle, and then it will get made into a new plastic bottle. Turns out this isn’t the case. Whereas glass, paper and metal can generally be turned back into what they were before, this is not the case for plastic.

Plastics lose their integrity in the recycling process and most can only be made into lower quality plastics such as plastic bags or polyester fibres. This is called downcycling. Often the items that they get downcycled into are not recyclable themselves, or people don’t know to recycle them, and therefore new plastic is created to fill the role they held.

On top of this, some plastics are not even recyclable. When you buy your punnets of strawberries with the plastic over the tub…not recyclable. When you buy a bag of apples…the plastic wrapper is not recyclable. This will just add up and up in landfill sites for hundreds of years.

There’s so much!

Take a look up from the screen and look around you. How many things can you see made of plastic? I’m going to guess more than you might have thought. I can see plastic sunglasses, plenty of plastic wrapping, headphones, games controllers and remote controllers, plastic plantpots, cables, TV surrounds, plastic lamps, picture frames made out of plastic, my clothes have some plastic in them….and this is just within my eye view. At work my notebook cover is plastic, all my pens are plastic, all my IT equipment is plastic, the desks have plastic on them, the chairs have plastic on them. All my toiletries come in plastic bottles. The list is endless! And all of this will still be around in 500 years. When you think about how many toiletry bottles you get through in your lifetimes alone, that’s pretty scary.

 

Harmful to our health and the environment

Some of the toxins that come out of plastic have been linked to cancer, hormone issues and a whole other range of health issues. These same toxins leach out into our environment as they sit in landfill after being thrown away. This is harmful to us, our wildlife, and our agricultural methods.

If you’re like me then you’ll be wondering what to do about all this. I’ll be putting some tips in next week’s post!

 

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