Can plastic be sustainable?
Plastic has become a symbol of our disposable culture, and for good reason: it is estimated that over 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. As a result, many people have called for the end of plastic use altogether, arguing that it is fundamentally unsustainable. However, is it possible that plastic can be sustainable? Let's take a closer look.
First, it is important to understand that plastic itself is not inherently bad for the environment. Plastic is a versatile material that can be used for a wide variety of products, from medical devices to car parts to food packaging. It is also lightweight, which means it can help reduce the carbon footprint of transportation. The problem lies not with plastic itself, but with how it is used and disposed of.
One way that plastic can be sustainable is through recycling. When plastic is recycled, it is melted down and reused to make new products, reducing the need for virgin plastic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, recycling one ton of plastic can save up to 2,000 pounds of oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.1 metric tons. In addition, many companies are now using recycled plastic to make their products, which can help create a market for recycled plastic and further reduce waste.
Another way that plastic can be sustainable is through reusing. Many plastic products, such as water bottles, can be reused multiple times before being recycled or disposed of. In addition, some companies are now designing products with reuse in mind, such as refillable shampoo and soap bottles, which can help reduce the amount of plastic waste generated.
However, it is important to note that not all types of plastic are created equal. Some types of plastic are easier to recycle than others, and some cannot be recycled at all. In addition, recycling and reusing plastic still require energy and resources, which means that they are not completely without environmental impact.
Furthermore, plastic production itself can be environmentally damaging. The production of plastic requires fossil fuels, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In addition, the production of plastic can generate toxic byproducts that can harm human health and the environment.
Overall, it is clear that plastic can be sustainable if it is recycled or reused properly. However, this does not mean that plastic is always the best option for sustainability. As with any material, it is important to consider the entire lifecycle of the product, from production to disposal, and to choose the most sustainable option available.
Unfortunately plastic is not recycled enough to be sustainable, only a very small percentage of the plastic collected is recycled properly, this is the real problem with this material. If there were more recycling plants and a more efficient collection system then we could make progress. The only solution today, if you really can't do without plastic, is to use as much as possible plastic that has already been recycled, and not the virgin material.
- Environmental Protection Agency. "Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2018 Fact Sheet." Accessed April 19, 2023. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2018-11/documents/2018_smmfactsheet_508_100418.pdf.
- Kuzma, Tracy. "Plastic Recycling 101: How It Works and Why It Matters." National Geographic. June 21, 2018. Accessed April 19, 2023. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/06/plastic-recycling-101/.
- Plastics Industry Association. "Plastics Recycling Saves Energy and Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions." Accessed April 19, 2023. https://www.plasticsindustry.org/sites/default/files/Plastics%20Recycling%20Saves%20Energy%20and%20Reduces%20GHG%20Emissions.pdf.
- United Nations Environment Programme. "Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability." 2018. Accessed April 19, 2023. https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainability.pdf?sequence=1