Humans have benefited from the use of polymers since approximately 1600 BC when the ancient Mesoamericans first processed natural rubber into balls, figurines and bands (Hosler et al. 1999). In the intervening years, man has relied increasingly on plastics and rubber, first experimenting with natural polymers, horn, waxes, natural rubber and resins, until the nineteenth century, when the development of modern thermoplastics began.
While discussing about environmental problems, people usually come up the topic of plastic at the first glance. Plastic waste indeed is a major problem afflicting landfills and oceans globally. However it is strongly believed that plastic and the environment can live in happy harmony. Plastic itself has positive sides that we should look into
Metal replacement programs have drastically improved the fuel efficiency of vehicles, with the most efficient vehicles utilizing lightweight plastics to deplete the vehicle weight. It could be assumed that every 10% weight decrease brings about in a 7% decrease in fuel utilization. Plastic in automotive industry has not only supported the environment but has also enhanced design potential, vehicle safety and vehicle shelf life.
In terms of transportation and delivery, plastic components create faster and more efficient vehicles. Plastic components have been used more often in making new vehicles because of the safety they bring to our vehicles. However, plastic material also has positive sides. Compared to traditional materials such as metal and glass, plastic is also much lighter. It will help cars travels more miles per gallon since the internal components don’t have to work as hard to move the vehicle’s weight forward. Greater fuel economy will lead to fewer stops at the gas station and less consumption of fossil fuel.
Plastics are light and well made, product packaging runs more smooth. Plastic lids size is designed smaller and packages are getting lighter, which contribute directly to fuel economy as well. The less weight truck needs to pull, the less gas they need to use.
Plastic positive sides are significantly presented in revolutionizing healthcare. With the advancements in the healthcare industry, plastic has proved to be one of the few versatile materials that has been able to adapt along with the dynamic nature of the industry. Positive sides of plastic are also counted on the making of disposable plastic syringes, blood bags, new heart valves, and other medical devices. The positive impact of plastic results in the significant development over the years which is the invention of prosthetics. Plastic prosthetics contributes to healthcare solutions with enhanced features and functionality.
Another positive side of plastic has been proved widely in the creation of medical tools and devices like surgical gloves, syringes, insulin pens, IV tubes, catheters, inflatable splits, etc. Such products are created for one-time use and help prevent the spread of dangerous diseases by eliminating the need to sterilize and re-use a device.
The durable nature of plastics is also a positive side that enable the creation of medical safety devices, such as tamper-proof caps on medical packaging, blister packs, and various medical waste disposal bags. Shatter-proof plastic make the storage and transportation option more convenient. What is more materials integrity is effectively preserved by positive sides of plastic by the use of protective coatings. Materials such as medical waste are now more easily done by non-permeable biohazard bags which were made from plastics
It is said that construction has the second highest user of plastics after packaging. We can find out a lot of positive sides in plastics in terms of construction.
Plastics are widely used in a board range of the construction industry. Plastic positive sides are shown on its great versatility and combine excellent strength to weight ratio, durability, cost effectiveness, low maintenance and corrosion resistance which make plastics an economically attractive choice throughout the construction sector.
The positive sides of using plastic in construction are presented by its lightweight yet strength which makes it easier to transport and shift around sites. People are no longer worried about rot and corrosion. Moreover, plastic has strong weather ability due to it being capable of achieving tight seals. Plastic flexibility enable it to be easily extruded, bent, molded, 3D printed, and so on. People can also remove or recycle plastic easily
The disadvantages of plastic are that it has the highly embodied energy content and a low modulus of elasticity, meaning that it is generally unsuitable for load-bearing applications. Unless treated, most plastics are also ignitable and have a high thermal expansion rate which requires detailing to allow for adequate thermal movement.
The plastics industry accounts for 4% of the world’s oil production as raw materials. The rest is used for energy and transport. The production of most plastic products is not energy intensive compared to metals, glass and paper.
Needless to say, saving and conserving energy and power safety are the important positive sides of plastic.
Plastics can be recycled typically for a maximum of six times at the end of use. If it does not make economic or environmental sense to recycle, used plastics should go to Energy from Waste to provide much needed power. Used plastics should not be sent to landfill. It is a waste of a valuable resource.
Plastic packaging constitutes around 8% of the household waste stream and only 5% of waste going to landfill.
It is reported that 21.8% of used plastic packaging was recycled in 2005. However this percentage is reported to rise rapidly since there are more local authorities collecting plastic. In 200 people recycled around 33% of available plastic bottles from households which is a 15% increase compared to the previous year. A target was set to be achieve at 22.5% by 31st December 2008 was set by The EU Directive on packaging waste.
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) mainly were recycled and again used to make pipes, pots, crates and other moulded products while recovered films are converted to sacks, bags and damp-proof membranes. The vast majority of recovered PET is used in the polyester fibwe industry although there is a growing demand for PET for closed loop packaging.
Last year 42,000 tonnes of used PVC from UK construction uses were reported to be recycled. People then recycled them into window frames, pipe, conduits, flooring and safety products. 33% of packaging Expanding Polystyrene (EPS) was collected and recycled last year.
Used plastics has a higher calorific value than coal and where it does not make economic or environmental sense to recycle it, then it should go to energy from waste (EfW) incineration to provide much needed home-grown energy and avoid expensive imports.