With the blessings of chemistry, one can design one’s own molecular world.
Since the invention of first synthetic plastic in 1907, it has been used as an electrical insulator, in product design and manufacture, and their use, especially as single-use items such as water bottles and food wrappings.
Therefore plastics have moulded the modern world and is ever expanding.
But it is to note that the total weight of plastics produced per year stands at more than 380 million tonnes currently and by 2050, it may even reach 900mn tn.
An estimated 12 billion tonnes in our garbage, incinerators and landfills. We may be sitting on a pile of danger.
Are we doing something about it?
In the recent scenario, Biodegradable plastics derived from plant sources, treated with oxygen and other chemicals are available in market.
Several companies that make or use plastic packaging have undertaken a pledge called the “New Plastics Economy Global Commitment“, an initiative by UNEP.
These plastics can be broken down in the environment but there are several challenges involved on this path towards sustainance:
1. Lack of awareness leads to mixing of all kind of waste, making the process less efficient.
2. Due to plastic density, it occupies more space and cost double to transport to plants.
3. Plastic requires manual segregation before recycling.
4. Lack of infrastructure and government policies.
Methods to recycle:
1. Can be chopped up, melted and reused as a lower-quality plastic.
2. By breaking the bonds that hold the long plastics molecules together, creating smaller, useful molecules that can be made into new plastics i.e chemical recycling.
This is clever chemistry and vital research.
But the Industry knows that as long as plastics use continues to rise, recycling alone will not reduce plastics pollution.
Is Recycling the best option we have?
“No, certainly not“, says an Environment expert.
While recycling is better than just throwing plastic away, there are even better ways to deal with the problem.
Reducing the amount and types of different plastic we use would be better.
All we need to do is simplify the variety of plastics that are available on the market otherwise recycling will always end up in some low quality plastic stuff that can return to Human world in some other form.
Companies need to take more responsibility for the full life cycle of their plastic products is “Extended Producers responsibility”.
The governments in turn, will need to introduce more stringent regulations on plastic collection, recycling and definitely, it’s exorbitant use.
Chemistry can help us with that.
It can seek to develop efficient ways to recycle the plastics we use today and, in the longer term, create replacements as in Polymers that not only have excellent properties during their useful life, but also offer options for end-of-life management.
Technology plus waste management can drive our sustainability.
Plastics now epitomize a disposable way of life and are associated with cheap, low-quality and low-value products.
To take a step forward here means, to undone what Human once yearned for, ease of living standard. And it is not easy to achieve.
But to hope is to achieve.
All we can think is to continue forward.
For research data, click here.