Earth’s depleting resources and the impact of environmental pollution on the global climate and on us are widely discussed in recent decades. The impacts in the coming years were even discussed at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference held at the end of 2021. As a leading company in the plastic sheet industry, we cannot ignore world opinion on this issue and we are doing everything we can to reduce the impact of our products on the environment.
Among all materials, why does plastic pose such significant environmental danger?
Have we ever stopped to think about why plastic, unwillingly, dominates the discussion when it comes to criticism about environmental damage? Myriad sights of contaminated beaches, animals that were harmed, and polluted oceans make for powerful photographs and provide a firsthand account of the impact of plastic, or perhaps more accurately – plastic waste, on the environment.
However, when we consider the alternatives and the environmental impact, it is important to remember that the issue is much more complex than a powerful photographic picture. An accurate analysis of the environmental impact of a product encompasses and includes the length of its lifetime, the resources needed for its production, the energy, and transport costs, and its handling at the end of its lifetime. In other words, each and every stage of its value chain. The accepted analysis for comparison purposes is LCA – Life Cycle Analysis, which is used to compare the environmental cost of products and to decide which of them is more eco-friendly.
History in a Nutshell
Since polyethylene, one of the first polymers, entered our life sometime in the mid-1900s, the materials science of polymers has grown and developed. Plastic in its varied forms has increasingly replaced natural materials such as wood, glass, and metal that were expensive, breakable or difficult to shape. The high availability of plastic, its varied properties, and ease of processing, in addition to the wide range of polymers developed in order to meet countless needs, have made plastic a large and significant part of our life. Plastic is now found in every industry: medicine, transportation, construction, packaging, sports and leisure products, and much more.
However, in our decade’s use of plastic, we have used it irresponsibly as consumers. We only exploited its advantages – its lightweight and high durability but did not consider the environmental pollution it creates at the end of its lifetime. This is the source of the problem and that which must be addressed.
So, let’s replace plastic with a different material?
Studies indicate that, in many cases, the use of plastic is environmentally preferable to other materials. For example, the transparent sheets that we produce from acrylic (PMMA) and polycarbonate (PC) often replace glass panels. The plastic sheets excel in withstanding breakage and impact compared to glass, while their transparency is almost the same as that of glass. Another additional and significant advantage is the specific gravity of plastic which is lower than that of glass. Thus the transport carbon footprint of these sheets is smaller. Furthermore, a larger number of plastic sheets can be transported on one pallet compared to glass panels, contributing to reduced energy costs. Another advantage of plastic has to do with recycling. The process requires less energy than glass recycling which is carried out at a much higher temperature.
Keith Christman, Managing Director of the Plastics Division at the American Chemistry Council, says: “Plastic plays an important role in sustainability supporting processes. By using less material, plastic production reduces the carbon footprint and the emission of greenhouse gases and saves energy. The global plastic industry continues to invest in increasing the contribution to sustainability by committing to increase plastic packaging recycling and collection by 2040”.
Is it logical to prohibit the use of plastic?
Environmental protection activists and industrialists note that restricting and prohibiting the use of plastic will not solve the problem of waste and are only “populist measures”. Note a study conducted in 2018 which found that multiple-use products such as an organic cotton tote bag must be used 20,000 times in order to cause less damage to the environment compared to a plastic bag. The cotton bag will undoubtedly tear long before it is used these many times.
Change begins with us!
Thus, the solution does not lie in stopping the use of plastic but rather inappropriate waste management and handling. Smart product design extends its lifetime while supporting reusing and recycling are definitely important measures.
At Plazit Polygal we are at the forefront of sheet recycling and promote this field at all our sites worldwide. We do everything we can to ensure that all production scrap, rejections, and products that have ended their lifetime will be recycled. We invest large resources on this issue and in cases in which technological solutions are not yet available we develop the entire process from scratch.
Concurrently, at the global level, action must be taken to establish a waste handling infrastructure, particularly in developing countries in which awareness is low. As we know, all the water sources in the world are connected and waste disposed of in one place floats and finds its way to other places where it causes harm.
It is impossible to go back
There are enormous benefits to using plastic products, including the sheets we produce. It is impossible to go back to the age of wood or glass. Considering all the catastrophes that have taken place on this planet in the course of history, it is difficult to believe that human beings indeed need to “save” the planet from something of such benefit. However, they can definitely use it more judiciously while adopting the broadest future perspective possible.