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.
We need agriculture to feed the human race, but intensive agricultural practices can be an ecological disaster. Clearing wildlife from large land areas to raise cattle is one harmful practice. Using large amounts of fertilisers is another. However you look at it, making land produce more and more food is damaging our environment. Shockingly, the UN’s environment programme estimates that up to 17% of the food we produce is wasted rather than eaten, and 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from producing wasted food.
How can plastic materials help? Wrapping fresh foods in plastic may not seem environmentally friendly, but it does help to extend the lifetime of the food. This makes it easier for us to use up the food before it goes off. There is a balancing act here between reducing food waste and not over-producing plastic that will end up in landfill.