Plastic Waste: Threats Wherever We Are

Plastic. Easy to make, inexpensive, durable, can be used anywhere. Plastic is like new gold in human civilization now. But plastic seems to be a new poison to the environment. Even in 2018, plastics can be found in human ‘poop’. What really happened?

Copyright: Swansea University, Released, Source

What is Plastic?

Plastics are mostly composed of polymers. A polymer is a series of atoms that forms a long chain of repetitive patterns, as in the following figure. Polymers are usually composed of Carbon and Hydrogen atoms, and sometimes Oxygen, Nitrogen, Sulfur, Florin, Chlorine, Phosphorus, or Silicon.

Polymer chain.

In nature, polymers are everywhere, such as natural rubber, silk, wool, hair, DNA, and protein. Such polymers are called natural polymers.

But in use, the polymers we use are artificial polymers, these are called synthetic polymers, which are derived from petroleum products.

Synthetic polymers have several advantages, which are lightweight, durable, can be shaped almost to the desired shape and easy to print. The ease of manufacturing makes plastic production mass-produced and too cheap, especially the abundant raw materials available in nature.

Basically there are several types of plastic that are produced.

  1. Acrylic, for example acrylic glass.
  2. PC (polycarbonate), for example on DVDs and glasses.
  3. PE (polyethylene), for example crackle, oil packaging, and army armor.
  4. PP, for example lunch boxes.
  5. PET / PETE / Polyester, for example food or drink packaging such as bottles.
  6. PVC, for example PVC pipes.
  7. ABS, for example in children’s toys.

However, sometimes the types above are also combined to get the right ingredients. Today, almost all objects and everyday equipment have parts made of plastic. Including mobile phones, chairs, clothes, computers, furniture, cars, and so forth.

Plastic Problems

At first plastic was like a revolutionary material. Has more advantages than other ingredients. Greatly changed the way humans live life. But the matter of ‘revolutionary’ ultimately ended up being rubbish.

Plastic has a long enough durability, even 500 to 1000 years to be destroyed. But don’t know why but WE ARE USING SUPER STRONG MATERIALS FOR SOMETHING DISPOSABLE.

In 2015 alone, around 35% of plastic production was as packaging and 46% of the world’s plastic waste came from plastic packaging. It is estimated that since the discovery of plastic until now, we have produced 8300 billion cubic tons of plastic. [1]

What Have We Done With This Plastic Trash?

So far, precisely in 2015, 9% of the rubbish has been recycled, 12% has been burned, and the remaining 79% is found in trash bins or scattered in nature to pollution. [1]

Copyright: oel Guevara / Greenpeace via EPA

Most plastic waste ends up at sea. So much plastic pollution makes many animals die of starvation with a stomach full of things that they cannot consume. Even in 2019, in the Philippines found dead whales with a stomach 40 kg filled with plastic.

Is There Any Threat More Harmful Than That? There is!

This dangerous thing is called Microplastic. Microplastic is a plastic that has a size of less than 5 mm. This microplastic can come from plastics that are designed very small, such as beauty products, or from plastic debris that is crushed into small pieces, such as plastic waste in the ocean that is exposed to continuous solar radiation.

Copyright: pcess609 / iStock

This certainly causes concern, especially of the dangers of substances added to the plastic. For example, DEHP / Phthalates which functions to make plastic flexible, which is also one of the causes of cancer.

This is certainly very dangerous from the bottom of the food chain to humans. Plastic is eaten by zooplankton, zooplankton is eaten by small fish, small fish are eaten by larger fish, crabs, or other predators. And they all end up on plates at our dinner table. Microplastic can even be found in tap water, beer, and table salt. [2]

Things like this are very worrying indeed. But it still needs a lot of research and more research before we have to panic.

Is Plastic Prohibition the Most Appropriate Solution?

It seems that the question is difficult to answer. On the other hand, materials that we think are safer than plastic sometimes on the other hand have worse consequences.

As in research conducted by the Danish Government. The research shows that the production of plastic bags requires energy and emits less CO2 emissions than the production of cotton bags. The bag must be used 7100 times to have a lower negative effect than the use of plastic. [3]

At times like this, it’s still rather difficult to determine whether the total cessation of plastic use is the best solution. On one hand, the plastic pollutes the environment, on the other hand, the replacement is still not eco-friendly enough to replace plastic. All have their own advantages and disadvantages.

On the other hand, plastic also helps us solve other problems. According to the FAO, around 30% of the world’s food is just thrown away. And these decaying foods certainly release methane gas, one of the gases that greatly contributes to global warming. So far, plastic is still the best packaging to prevent this kind of spoilage, especially during food distribution.

If we look at this plastic waste producer, 27.7% is produced by China, and 10.1% is produced by Indonesia, and the remaining 62.2% is produced by other countries. [4] Countries like China and Indonesia have developed rapidly in the last few decades. Changing the lives of millions of people and making waste management infrastructure like this not ready to handle it.

If people out there, say in developed countries, want to make better changes related to plastic waste, they must be equally concerned about waste in their countries and in developing countries or those that need attention.

As long as we see the problem of plastics as a problem of our own country, and not a problem of the common world, we will never solve this problem.

Sources and References:

  1. Plastic Pollution: How Humans are Turning the World into Plastic – Kurzgesagt
  2. In a First, Microplastics Found in Human Poop – National Geographic
  3. This Young Whale Died With 88 Pounds of Plastic in Its Stomach – National Geographic
  4. What Are Plastics? – Plastics Make It Possible
  5. Polymers Basic – Bry Air Prokon
  6. The Countries Polluting the Oceans the Most With Plastic Waste – Plastic Ethics
  7. Natural Polymer – Sceince Direct
  8. List of Synthetic Polymers – Wikipedia
  9. 7 Types of Plastic That You Need to Know – Waste4Change
  10. 7 Different Types of Plastic – AC Plastic Inc
  11. Plastic Pollution – Our World in Data
  12. New Online Platform Fosters Efforts to Curb Food Losses Through Information Sharing – Food and Agriculture Organization

[1] Geyer, R., Jambeck, J.R., & Law, K.L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3 (7).
[2] Kosuth, M., Mason, SA, Wattenberg EV (2018). Anthropogenic contamination of tap water, beer, and sea salt. PLoS ONE 13 (4).
[3] Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark (2018). Life Cycle Assessment of grocery carrier bags. Environmental Project no. 1985
[4] Jambeck, J.R., Geyer, R., Wileox, C., Siegler, T.R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R., & Law, K.L. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347 (6223)

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