Plastics have recently become the “bad guy” of materials, mainly because they don’t degrade easily or quickly. People throw away plastic and clog landfills or create unsightly trash. This has caused major problems for many wildlife. Marine animals, in particular, often get tangled up in plastic waste. Even worse, tiny plastic particles (” microplastics “) can damage the digestive systems of the animals that eat them.
As a species, humans aren’t very good at dealing with the amount of plastic waste we produce. However, plastic is a very useful material! You may be surprised to learn that plastic isn’t all bad. Let’s look at the useful aspects of plastic.
Plastic waste is bad for the environment, but plastic products can be helpful, if used properly. Imagine a lorry transporting plastic bottles of milk from the dairy to the supermarket. The lorry would burn more fuel if the milk bottles were made of glass. This is because glass bottles are usually heavier than plastic ones. The density of glass depends on its type but can be 2-10 times the density of typical plastics used for containers. Over the course of several years, we can use less fuel by transporting plastic rather than glass bottles. Using less fuel for transport also leads to lower CO2 emissions.
Also, while a glass bottle is a relatively small component, we’re increasingly using plastic components in cars and aeroplanes, to make them lighter. We can save a considerable amount of fuel by doing this and decrease the amount of CO2 emitted. So, unless we all agree to stop travelling and only buy products manufactured locally, plastics are a good way to decrease CO2 production in transport.