Adapting to Plastic: Are We Ready for the Next Evolution?

Who is the mother of plastic? It’s Oil. That’s no surprise or was it?
Plastic needs no introduction, we are well aware of how versatile this material has proven to be and how it’s a part of our lives and our body!

Hello, It’s good to be back at blogging after a while. I’ve been busy setting up things for my business and it sure takes a lot of time and effort. Anyway, I was thinking about a topic, about something that’s part of our lifestyle and something that can’t be taken away and viola, plastic!

Living without Gold and Platinum is possible, but can you live without plastic?

Here is a simple flow diagram that shows how plastic is obtained from refining crude oil. plastic process

Crude oil is refined to obtain naphtha, sounds familiar? Which is then put through a process of cracking (wonder what that is) and the result is Ethylene and Propylene, The Ps and Es  and PPs and PEs that you see printed on all things plastic!

Rise of Plastic – A Brief history

Bakelite, the first commercial plastic, was used in old electrical switches and those black telephones with rotary dials. While it was wood before that, providing the much needed safety called electrical insulation. 

  Leo Baekeland (source )

A light weight material, that can bend or stay rigid and which won’t rust was a big deal. Not to forget how smooth, shiny and colorful they can get. No wonder plastic proved itself a versatile alternative to metals, wood and stone. 

infographic evolution of plastic

2000s and beyond, we are seeing the development of new technologies, such as bioplastics. Such innovations may offer hope of a more sustainable future for plastic. Nevertheless it has become invasive, both metaphorically and literally.

It’s everywhere.

Fun fact: It appears more than 50 times in this story! That’s literal litter.

Breathing, Eating and Drinking Plastic

From soda bottles to space suits including the debris in space, plastic has become an intrinsic part of our livelihood.

Touted as a wonder material that no science could explain, even water exists in only 3 forms, liquid, solid (ice) and gas (vapor). Plastic on the other hand? foamy, bendy, stretchy, filmy, sticky and gooey?, you get the idea.

Extensive use of plastic for packaging food and water not only leads to landfill but also jeopardizes wildlife and nature that directly affects our wellbeing. Toxic chemicals from certain plastics leaching into food is an ever present risk for health. Couple that with ignorant or irresponsible use of plastic, for example using non-food grade plastics to store food?

The following list gives me jitters, some of them despite their safety claims.

  • Styrofoam cups and plates for hot food and beverages?
  • Use of re-heat only plastics to boil things in the microwave. I wonder how many pay attention to the maximum temperature or microwave power setting that applies to certain microwave utensils.
  • Toys that we let our babies play and chew with. 
  • Synthetic colors in food. Synthetic refers to polymers (a sciency name for plastic)
  • Burning plastic to extract metal from things like tyres, wires & electronic parts.

Question: Have you noticed, there is so much lint in the house lately, all coming from fabrics and door mats made with microfiber?

Faking It With Plastic

Plastic is the modern pioneer when it comes to faking things, try beating that deepfake.

Natural materials like wood and stone cost a lot, which gave rise to extensive use of plastic to mimic natural substances.

Look around you, almost everything has some or should I say more plastic on it? Those low cost MDF furniture that give the appearance of wood. Decking and floorings, Wall paper plastics? Kitchen counters and tables that mimic natural stone.

Then we have artificial plants, flowers and grass. Not to forget the plastic in wall paints.

Besides being cheap and good looking, disposing of these fake stuff is a problem and they don’t have any resale value. That’s more debris to handle and think about all the heat trapped. Plastic is an insulator which doesn’t let heat dissipate easily.

Also there are some studies that show how the indoor air quality is worse compared to the polluted outdoors. All this lead me to believe that plastic invasion won’t stop any sooner. recycling fact

Why recycling is not the solution, at least for now

For starters, recycling is costly and not all plastics can be recycled.

Your favorite coffee joints promise to recycle those cups is a lie because those cups have plastic fused to paper and we don’t have a cost effective technology to separate the two. All those cups you toss into the recycle bin goes to the landfill.

There are many types of plastic and each requires a different chemical process to be broken down and reclaimed for use.

Sorting is the biggest challenge. It becomes even more difficult to sort when they are contaminated with food residue, oil and other chemicals. Imagine using half a dozen trash can or dust bin, just for segregating different types of plastic in each household.

Businesses often prefer to use new plastic because they are easier to produce from scratch and they are cheaper compared to recycling.

How about Plastic Decomposers?

Maybe a superbug that digests plastic? That’s more dreadful than a nuclear bomb. Imagine waking up to find your phone has crumbled to bits of glass and metal, all the plastic gone!

Of course we don’t want that or life as we know it will crumble literally. Such is our dependence on plastic.

Biodegradable plastics – A better alternative?

Do biodegradable plastics justify their name? Do they really degrade? If so, how well and how fast? Those are some questions I ponder when I hear the word biodegradable.

On the face value, if these plastics do break down faster than regular plastic, I am all for it.
If you have already put the biodegradable plastic to test, please do share your findings in the comments.

Bioplastics are special plastics made from starch and or fiber from plant sources. Natural ingredients mean they can be broken down naturally by microbes in the soil.” That sounds promising but there are different types of bioplastic and I am assuming each may require special conditions to breakdown. If these conditions are taken care by nature then we have a winner!

A better plastic that doesn’t end up in landfill is always welcome and it cannot be available sooner. I hope scientists run into some accident and discover something that is cheap to produce and degrades faster in natural soil conditions. Fingers crossed.

Special plastic may cost more compared to regular ones and I suppose paying a small price for the sake of our health and future is reasonable.

What role can we play as responsible earthlings?

How about cutting down on takeaways and food deliveries for starters? Not only does this convenience come with a bloated price that includes delivery and packaging charges, you are also contributing to the omnipresent garbage problem.

Balloons & Party poppers. I mean, why? can’t we celebrate without them?

The government’s initiative to ban single use plastics is a step in the right direction. People have started carrying their own bags to shop for groceries just like old days, the way it was meant to be. Milk delivered in glass bottles and rice wrapped in paper with jute twine brings back nostalgic memories from my long lost childhood. 

It’s summer already, which means a rise in the consumption of sodas and icecreams. Let’s not litter for our own sake. Not to forget the plight of those villages in the outskirts of cities like Bengaluru, that are used to dump garbage.

Don’t we form a queue to dispose of garbage when the collection truck arrives in the mornings? Imagine having to book a slot once a week for waste disposal because of the possibility that we may run into a shortage of landfills.

Use plastic wisely.

I will leave you with that thought.

Thank you for your time and don’t forget to subscribe, it doesn’t cost any plastic!


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