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Op-Ed: Plastic, Plastic, Plastic!  We Are Awash in A Sea of Plastic

Lebanon County, PA- Plastics are a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials that use polymers as a main ingredient. Plasticity of plastics make it possible for plastics to be molded, extruded or pressed into solid objects of various shapes. Plastics are derived from natural materials, such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and crude oil.

Doc Clements

Lebanon County, PA- Plastics are a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials that use polymers as a main ingredient. Plasticity of plastics make it possible for plastics to be molded, extruded or pressed into solid objects of various shapes. Plastics are derived from natural materials, such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and crude oil.

Plastic was invented in 1907, when the first patent for Bakelite was filed by the American Baekeland. The totally synthetic plastic Bakelite retained its shape and form under heat and stress. It quickly found its way in jewelry, clocks and telephones. By the 1940s, both plastics and the machines to mass-produce plastic products were commonplace. Injection-molding machines, now standard in plastic manufacturing, turned raw plastic powders or pellets into a molded finished product.

Today, plastic is found everywhere. Plastic is used to store, protect and lighten products that once required heavy and more expensive materials. Just sitting at my desk typing, it is obvious the amount of plastic we use is incredible and includes the keys I am typing upon. Plastic has made advances possible in many industries like the aerospace, automotive and medicine.

Unfortunately, the use of plastic has become so commonplace that it is abused and overused in many industries and has become a serious waste product in our environment. Beyond being a long term environmental contaminate (10-40 years), plastics pollution is the source of microplastics (plastic particles less then 5 millimeters in size), which are a  break down particle of all types of plastic. Microplastics cause damage to human cells. Microplastics carry a range of trace metals and potentially harmful organic chemicals. Microplastics are carcinogenic. We are living in a sea of microplastics; they are in our food and drinks, our oceans and homes. The Great Pacific Garbage patch is estimated at 1.6 million square miles or twice the size of Texas and is composed 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. Estimates that 14 million tons of microplastics on the ocean floor may be conservative. We are awash in a sea of plastic!

So, recycling you say is the answer. Maybe not! The fact is that only 8% of the plastic you put in the recycling bin is recycled. Plastics are in ten different categories based on chemical composition.  Because of the different chemistry and resins mixing is undesirable and, in many instances, reuse is not possible. Some plastics are of such low grade, it is not economically feasible to recycle. The issue is further complicated by homeowners placing incorrect items in their recycling bin resulting in the entire bin being relegated to trash.

We need to reexamine the indiscriminate use of plastic. Many industries are utilizing plastics especially low-grade plastics that are not recyclable to showcase products. I have found the food industry to be a major offender. Placing cakes, cupcakes and pies in large plastic containers, when in fact a paper of cardboard-based product would do the same without the potential plastic waste and the ability to be recycled. Utilizing plastic bottles that are low on the recyclable scale when a superior alternative exists. Using plastics, when recyclable products could be utilized is not only a health hazard but an economic issue, as well. Millions of tax dollars are utilized yearly to clean and dispose of these products. We are allowing corporations that indiscriminately utilize plastics to place the burden of removing these products on the taxpayer and contribute to potential serious health hazards. I believe it is time that we look at the plastic issue seriously before it becomes a tsunami.

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