New Alternatives for Plastics are finally on the Market

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New Alternatives for Plastics are finally on the Market

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Throughout 2018, there was a pollution and global warming scare that seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye.  Although there are numerous amounts of campaigning and funding around education of plastic pollution, it seems that most of the world still lives with the same conditions from plastic pollution. However, this time, there is an exception. We finally found several plastic alternatives. So, why aren’t we using them? How is the world going to adapt to new ideas and methods that help with being environmentally friendly?   

 

Why are people finally turning towards plastic alternatives?

Thankfully, there are people who do try to work towards a low- impact life. They try to avoid having waste of any kind, and tend to use reusable items. On the other hand, many companies are starting to put their efforts on alternatives, due to the realization of the expenses of plastic pollution. According to United Nations Environment Programme “Plastic Waste Causes Financial Damage of US$13 Billion to Marine”, the overall natural capital cost of plastic use in the consumer goods sector each year is US$75 billion,  proving that it costs more to damage the planet than to help it. On the other hand, it seems like plastic production itself will not stop, as it is said to increase by 3.8% until 2030. The next question is, “What are the masses doing to stay eco-friendly?”.   

 

The trends in Plastic alternatives and the new market for it:

  Along with the classic reusable alternatives people resolve to, scientists and companies are coming up with new plastic alternatives that can be just as light, durable, and convenient as normal plastic. The only difference will be the ability to decompose and contain no harmful chemicals to the body. If people don’t want to use glass, wood, or steel constantly, they can use the degradable plastics, without feeling guilty. All different types of new inventions including hemp plastic and cornstarch plastic have taken strides. Other wacky ideas such as seaweed, mushroom, and even sugar cane based plastics are deemed efficient enough and have been used by many eco-friendly companies.  

There are several reasons why alternative plastics are considered to be more useful and efficient than the traditional petroleum based plastics. Besides the fact that they are decomposable and have no harmful toxins in them, some are considered stronger and more versatile than basic plastics. For example, Hemp plastic is considered an all time classic for plastic alternatives with its staggering decomposing rate of 3-6 months, cost effective versatility, and ability to decrease environmental pollutants.  Hemp plastic is one of the only few alternatives that can be used for everything-literally, everything. Hemp is used for things such as containers, toys, cosmetics, bottles, bags, car parts and even boats!  

The only question left is: “Why isn’t hemp plastic everywhere if its so great?”. One of the reasons why, is due to the fact that hemp is still considered a luxury item. Even though hemp is under the pilot programs legalized by the 2014 Farm Bill, most is still imported from other countries. There is also the problem of the crops being more labor intensive. Hemp requires less pesticides and leave no carbon footprint, but the crop is hard to harvest since it uses high amounts of water. Lastly, hemp is hard for the common farmer to get their hands on, since both hemp and cannabis have heavy restrictions on who and where they grow. It is a controversy, since hemp can be used as a holistic drug for health.  It is not only hemp that has some of these problems, but other “cellulose fiber” plastics share common problems, preventing them from reaching out to masses on the market.

 

What about the already existing plastic? How are we going to get rid of it?

As previously said, trying to rid of plastic is very expensive and damaging to the planet. Not only that, but plastic production is not going to slow until countries go towards reusable packaging and containers. Countries like Australia, already admitted to a recycling crises where their waste management was considered poor. They are attempting to make all Australian packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025. However, they do not have a way to get rid of their remaining plastic pollution. The country came up with an idea to turn their waste plastic into fuel.  

How does “plastic energy” work?

In order to understand how plastic energy works, a person needs to know that plastics are made out of refined crude oil. Both the price and production all depend on the availability of oil that the Petrochemical industry produces. Then there are the two different types of recycling: Mechanical and Chemical. Mechanical recycling is the recycling we are all aware of. Facilities sort out different plastics and shred them, so they can be made back into pellets in order to be used again.  Then, there is chemical recycling. This type of recycling is used to turn plastic into an energy carrier or feedstock for fuel (the type of recycling that Australia is investing in.) When companies try to complete chemical recycling, they can do it through two ways: Gasification and Pyrolysis. They are two methods that do the same thing, yet have totally different processes. Gasification involves heating the waste plastic with air or steam, to produce a valuable industrial gas mixture called “synthesis gas”, or syngas. The mixture can then be used to produce diesel and petrol, or burned directly in boilers to generate electricity. In pyrolysis, plastic waste is heated in the absence of oxygen, and produces a mixture of oil similar to crude oil. This can be further refined into transportation fuels.  

 

Currently,more ways are being discovered on how we can be more sustainable and eco-friendly from both the packaging, to our energy source. We still have a long way to go. However, the next step is realizing how important it is for all countries to contribute and do their best effort to be more eco- friendly.