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The Facts About Plastic


Did you ever wonder where plastic comes from and where it ends up after you’ve thrown it out?

The first plastics were discovered in the late 1800s and humans have been developing them ever since; it is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Plastics are manmade materials formed by long chains of molecules called polymers, derived from crude oil, gas, coal, rubber or cellulose (an organic compound which forms the primary structural component of green plants).

There are around 40 different types of plastics in use today, including polystyrene, polyethylene and vinyl, to name a few. There are so many combinations of chemicals and processes that can be used to create plastic, that there is almost an infinite possibility of different applications to which it can be applied.

Plastics are used for many reasons, the main one being that they can be formed into whatever shape is desired. They are ideal for many uses because they are:

  • Durable
  • Light weight
  • Flexible
  • Thermal and electrical insulators
  • Resistant to some chemicals
  • Recyclable

Their many uses include:

  • Bottles and containers
  • Car interiors
  • Ingredient in paints and adhesives
  • Nylon Stockings
  • Plastic food wrap
  • Toys

This list could go on for pages, but you get the picture. It seems we cannot live without it, but are there negatives to using it?

The negatives associated with plastics are impactful on both the environment and the health of animals and humans.
Plastics overflow in landfill for years and years. The carbon footprint used to produce them is enormous, and the chemicals that leech out when it’s heated (BPA) has been proven to have a detrimental impact on our health which are linked to cancer as well as a multitude of worrisome illnesses.

Did you know?

  • It takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to break down in the environment.
  • It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down.
  • Recycling 1 tonne of plastic bottles saves 1.5 tonnes of carbon.
  • Between 2009-2010 global production of plastic increased by 15 million tonnes (6%) to 265 million tonnes (sourced from Plastic-the Facts 2011 – Plastics Europe).
  • When you buy a bottle of water, 90% of the price is for the plastic container.

It is clear that plastic is useful and won’t be going away anytime soon, but we can all be more responsible by recycling what we use and buying less of things, such as bottled water, and use cloth bags instead of plastic ones.

If we are thoughtful and proactive we can have the benefits of plastics whilst reducing their impact on the Earth thus ensuring a better future for generations to come.

This article appears in the 'Plastic Issue' of the EarthFIrst iPad Magazine. Grab yourself a copy for only $2.99, that's cheaper than a cup of coffee!

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