13 Unbelievable Advantages And Disadvantages Of Plastics In The Environment

Climate Real Talk Team

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Numerous objects exist in our environment and one of them is plastic products. The use of plastics in the environment has become common. It has become an indispensable part of our lives as its use has grown exponentially over the years. Research has shown that 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown away every hour. That’s quite a lot.

The increase in plastics has raised a lot of concerns from eco-friendly experts who know the impact of plastics in the environment. Since the production of plastics in 1950, we have tons of plastics to deal with. This waste is further driven by the growth of plastic packaging industries that have manufactured diverse packing materials such as plastic bags etc.

A staggering number of this plastic waste never made it to the recycling centers but ended up as waste in our landfill, and oceans causing plastic pollution. This has a direct impact on our environment and ecosystem. 

So you may be asking what really are these plastics and in what ways have they impacted our environment. I implore you to stay on this blog post as we first and foremost explain the concept of plastics.

What Are Plastics?

Plastics have been defined as a wide range of semi-synthetic or synthetic substances that contains polymers as the main ingredient. The plastic production process started in the 20th century and is derived from fossil fuels like natural gases or petroleum.

They are made from polymers like Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), polyethylene, nylon, etc. and many of them are made of chains of carbon atoms, nitrogen, sulfur, and so on. Plastics have a nature that enables them to be molded, extruded, or pressed into solid objects with varying shapes and sizes. And just like other things, there are different types. 

Classification of Plastics

There are various ways that plastics can be categorized. The major classification includes acrylics, polyesters, silicon, etc.  They can also be classified by their physical properties such as resistance to heat, density, tensile strength, or hardness.

However other categorizations depend on their characteristics as it relates to the manufacturing process. Based on that, we have the following.

1. Thermoplastics

Thermoplastics are a type of plastic made up of polymer resins. They can soften when heat is applied and harden after they have cooled. This makes them able to be melted, reshaped, and remolded when heated and designed to be recycled. The general characteristic of thermoplastics is that they are malleable.

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Examples of thermoplastics are polypropylene(PP), polyethylene (PE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polystyrene (PS).

This picture shows a water pipe which constitutes plastics in the environment.

2. Thermosets 

Thermosets can be described as polymer materials that are insoluble and do not melt, reprocess or reform when heated rather they decompose. When compared to thermoplastics, thermosets are stronger. That’s the reason they are widely used in the chemical and energy industries. 

3. Biodegradable plastics 

Biodegradable plastics are those plastics that naturally break down in the environment. These plastics degrade when they are exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet radiation and are made of a structure that allows natural microbes to break them down which produces a less harmful effect on the environment.

Over the years, concerns have been raised by environmentally friendly experts and organizations on the disadvantages of plastics in the environment. We have summarized a few of them for your enlightenment.

1. Plastics Take Many Years To Decompose

Plastics take a long time to decompose. It can take as long as 400 years. That’s quite a long time for us to be careless with these plastics in the environment. 

A crisp packet that was eaten in 1994 and has been in the environment without decomposing.

2. Plastic Can Leach Chemicals Into The Water 

Most plastics we dump carelessly end up in the oceans and this has become a global challenge. This is because they pose a great danger to aquatic life by leaching toxic chemicals into the oceans. As a result, compound that leach from plastics has become a source of contamination and death for these animals.

3. Plastics Affect Agricultural Land

Due to the carelessness of humans, plastic bags and plastic cans end up in agricultural lands. This has a negative effect on crops as they reduce agricultural production. The chemicals that were leached into the soil will hinder plant growth which leads to poor agricultural yield and has an effect on food security.

4. Plastic is Non-Biodegradable 

This means that most plastics do not break down to environmentally safe conditions over time. They cannot decompose properly into the soil when its discarded on land even when it stays for many years to decompose.

5. Plastic Can Clog The Waterways

Plastic waste poses a serious environmental danger to both humans and animals. Take, for instance, plastic bags or nylons, that litter our surroundings. 

Once they find their way into our gutters and waterways, they clog and block drainages. The implication is that runoff water will leave its channels to flood our roads or environment. And who is to be blamed if not we humans?

This picture is an example of how plastic can increase plastic in the environment by blocking drainages.

6. Plastics Kill Wildlife 

Millions of animals are killed by plastic annually, from birds to aquatic animals to wildlife. Plastic pollution is a threat to aquatic life. These animals suffer the consequences of our negligence. This is because a considerable amount of plastics end up in the ocean and water bodies. 

These animals can get entangled in these plastic bags, leading to starvation or getting choked and drowning. On the other hand, some of them confuse plastics with food waste and swallow them. This can lead to the death and decline of endangered species. 

This is a pictorial representation of how plastic in the environment poses a threat to marine wildlife.

7. Plastics Can Cause Cancer

Cancer has become a common disease among humans recently unlike in the time past. Though this can be a result of so many factors, some of them can be traced to plastics in the environment. 

Research has shown that the use of plastic has been linked to cancerous diseases that are prevalent in our days.

8.  Pollution

Plastics lead to air, water, and land pollution. Yes, we say that plastics can be recycled but the recycling process releases toxic gases into the atmosphere. Plastics cause pollution anywhere they are by releasing toxic chemicals.

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A typical example is plastics that are discarded and left under direct sunlight, emitting dangerous gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the soil and atmosphere. 

9. Plastics Cannot Be Infinitely Recycled 

Metals because of their nature can be recycled severally into different products, unlike plastics. People are likely to discard plastics or burn them when it’s no longer needed and that will release poisonous gases into the atmosphere. And to worsen it all,  some plastics cannot be recycled.

10. Low Melting Point 

Plastics have low melting points. That’s the reason it cannot tolerate high heat levels. As such, they cannot be used as protective wear for fire. Also, some plastics are highly inflammable such as polystyrene, acrylic, polyethylene, nylons, etc and they are used mostly in packaging. This makes them a danger to be used in the home or offices.

Having seen the disadvantages of plastics in the environment, you may be tempted to say that something that poses these dangers will not be useful. But contrary to this notion, plastics have advantages. The following are ways plastics are beneficial to us.

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Advantages of Plastic On The Environment

1. Plastics Are Affordable 

One good thing about plastics is that they are less expensive. We are able to reduce costs by choosing plastics as an alternative. Since it is more affordable, people can easily afford them. 

Imagine if mobile phones, television, refrigerators, and computers were made of metal instead of plastic, the prices would be over the rooftop. It won’t be bad to say that nearly all the appliances are made of plastics and that is an edge it has over other materials.

Plastic chairs are more affordable than those made of glass and other materials.

2. Plastic Products Have a Longer Life Span

Have you ever thought of the reason construction companies use plastics? That’s because they are durable.  Plastics can last up to 35 years. This attribute is the reason that construction companies use plastics in plumbing and wiring. 

3. Plastics Can Be Recycled

Some plastics can be subjected to a recycling process when melted under high temperatures and used to produce other materials. This means less solid waste in our environment. 

4. They Are Lightweight

This is another attribute of plastics. They are not heavy like metals. The fact that plastics are lightweight doesn’t mean that they are not strong. This lightweight attribute made it a preferred choice in terms of transportation when compared to items that are made of metal. 

Being lightweight has also made plastics be used in the manufacturing of products such as kitchen utensils, automobile steering, television cabinets, paints, buttons, fabrics, and many other products.

 5. The Plastic Industry Contributes To The Global Economy

The global plastics industry has created millions of jobs for people. They have successfully contributed their quota to the reduction of unemployment in the world. Appropriately over 1 million people are employed in the US alone, all thanks to the plastic industry.

6. Good Safety And Hygiene Properties For Food Packaging

The use of plastic as a packaging material is a common practice. This makes them beneficial to manufacturers. Topmost on its usefulness is that plastics have a form that’s adaptable. This feature enables manufacturers to customize it into different shapes, and sizes. Also, they occupy less storage space.

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Plastic packages can equally survive extreme weather without compromising the quality of the food or beverage that’s inside.

This image shows that plastics can be useful in packageing food.

7. Plastics Are Used In Making Safety Gear

Plastic products are of immense benefit as they are used in making safety gear for our protection. A variety of safety gear has been made from plastics like seat belts, helmets, goggles, etc. This wouldn’t have been possible with other alternative materials like metal.

This is an image of footballers using the plastic helmets on the pitch.

8. It Is Resistant To Corrosion 

This is another advantage of plastics over metals. Unlike metals that can rust when they come in contact with moisture, plastics do not rust. This is the reason behind using them to protect cables. Plastics made of Polypropylene, High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), and Polyvinylidene Flouride (PVDF) because of their high resistance to corrosion are mostly used to prevent corrosion. 

9. It Is a Poor Conductor of Heat and Electricity

Conductors are those compounds that allow heat to pass through them. If you have mistakenly touched a cooking pan that’s made of iron handles, you will appreciate plastics as a poor heat conductor.

Plastics do not allow heat or electricity to pass through. Thereby used as an insulator to prevent burn or electric shock.

10. Plastics Play a Major Role in Saving And Conserving Energy

The production of most plastics does not consume a lot of energy as compared to the production of metal or glass. 

11. Plastics Are Used In Producing Medical Equipment

Plastics have been beneficial in the medical field. It has been used to produce materials like syringes, plastic casts for broken bones, etc. And having known that plastics are lightweight, they provide the wearer with the comfort move about without feeling any weight.

Also, the use of plastics has given room for a more sterile environment in the medical field. As medical professionals can use plastic products once and dispose of them rather than sterilize medical tools. Not to mention that plastic materials are used in the production of artificial heart valves which has saved many lives.

This shows syringes made of plastics which are beneficial in the medical field.

12. It Occupies Less Space in Landfill When Compared To Paper

Although plastics take a long time to decompose, they occupy less space in landfill when compared to paper. This is because paper occupies seven times more volume than plastics. 

13. Methane Doesn’t Form When Plastics Start Decomposing 

When other organic materials start to decompose, greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. Although this technique focuses on carbon dioxide, the methane that is emitted is exceedingly hazardous. When compared to carbon dioxide, methane is up to 20 times more effective as an atmospheric product that reflects light. Plastic waste doesn’t emit this gas as they start to degrade.

Bottom Line

Having read through this blog post, you will understand that plastics are both beneficial and also harmful to our environment. Even when we are enjoying the benefits that come with plastics, we should minimize their use by making efforts to change habits that harm the environment by using substitutes that do not pose danger to our environment. 

I hope you found value reading this blog post. We will love to hear the habits you are willing to change for a better environment.

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