"My obsession is plastic packaging. It makes me sick, all the waste. Everything about it disappoints me."
Theo James, Actor
The use of plastics is quite common in our nowadays society.
Most of the wrapping and packaging that is used in our stores had been made out of plastics.
Also many of our products are made out of synthetic materials. This is due to the fact that plastics are rather cheap and also have several other advantages.
However, there are also some problems related to the use of plastics. In this article, the pros and cons of plastics are examined in detail.
One important advantage of plastics is that they are pretty convenient to use. For instance, if you go to the supermarket, you will likely use plastic bags to carry home your things you just bought since it is simply the most convenient way. Even though you could bring your own fabric bag, it will take you less effort and many people also forget to bring their own bags when they go shopping.
Moreover, when it comes to buying water, most people rely on plastic bottled water since it is lightweight compared to other materials like glass. All those arguments boil down to the convenience of the individual and we prefer plastic since it makes our life just easier most of the time.
Compared to other packaging materials, plastics are also quite cheap. Many industries know that and that is the reason why most of our packaging and wrappings are made out of synthetic materials. Other packaging materials would cost much more to produce and many companies therefore refrain to use alternative packaging.
Plastics are prominent in all parts of our daily life. For instance, if you go shopping in the store, you will likely use plastic bags.
Moreover, if you buy a shirt, chances are that it is made (at least partly) out of polyester, which is a synthetic material that can be regarded as plastic as well.
If you buy a coffee-to-go, chances are that you will use a disposable plastic cup, which is usually also made out of plastics to a certain extent.
There are numerous additional occasions where we use plastics in our daily life and without the use of plastics, our daily life would look significantly different.
Plastic is also a quite hygienic material. It is less vulnerable to outside conditions like rain compared to packaging materials that are made out of cardboard.
Plastics are also a quite good protection when it comes to the protection of goods against certain contaminations and diseases.
Plastic packaging seals its content quite well and the quality as well as the hygiene of products can be assured through plastic packaging.
Since plastic is the most cost-efficient packaging material, it also assures that many of our daily life products can be offered at a rather low price. This would not be true if we switched to alternative packaging materials. For instance, refraining from plastic packaging would increase manufacturing costs and therefore would also translate into increasing product prices in the long run.
Another upside of plastic is that it ensures a long durability of products. For instance, our food is vulnerable to outside influences and will degrade sooner or later. However, by using plastic packaging, it will last for much longer than it would without. Therefore, plastics can prolong the durability of products and may therefore save us plenty of money since we may not have to throw away too much food anymore.
Plastics are also quite durable and resistant to all kinds of adverse outside factors. For instance, plastics are quite resistant against heavy rain, storms and so on. Thus, they are a perfect packaging material. Moreover, also many of our products for daily life which are made out of plastics will last for a long time. Thus, if manufactured properly, plastic items can also be of quite good quality and may last for a quite long time.
Another reason why plastics are so popular is that they are quite light. This is especially important for people who do not even own a car. If you have to carry all your things from the store to your home by using public transport or if you have to walk, you will prefer lightweight alternatives whenever you can.
Thus, you will rather buy plastic bottled water instead of glass bottled water. The same is true for many other items. Therefore, plastics ensure a high level of convenience due to the fact that plastics packaging is usually quite light and easy to carry around.
Unlike other materials, plastics do not emit an unpleasant smell. For instance, packaging that is made out of organic materials may begin to smell after a while. This is especially true when it comes in contact with moisture.
Thus, if you don’t want to have a certain level of smell in your home, plastics are a convenient way to avoid that since they do not smell and will also be resistant against moistures and all kinds of other factors.
Even though we often only use our plastic bags and other things a single time, most plastic items are suitable for reuse. For instance, you could use your plastic bags multiple times and therefore easily improve your ecological footprint.
The same is true for many other things of our daily life. Just ask yourself every time you dispose your material things into the garbage whether they would not be suitable for multiple uses. By doing so, you could greatly reduce your plastic waste production over time.
Another advantage of plastics is that they are not fragile at all. For instance, if you compare plastic and glass bottles, which one will be more vulnerable to break and cause unpleasant surprises in your trunk or at your home? Since plastics are less fragile, they will often be the safer option compared to other materials and plastics are quite popular due to this fact for most people.
Many of our plastic products also have quite long lifespans. For instance, we could use our plastic garden chair for many years. However, many people just buy and dump their things way to early due to fashion reasons.
Thus, in many cases, it is people’s preference to get rid of their plastic items quite soon, not the quality of the plastic product itself.
Therefore, plastics should not be blamed for people’s behavior since many plastic products would be suitable for a quite long time if people wanted to do so.
Our industries are heavily dependent on plastics of several sorts. This is due to the fact that plastics have many convenient properties.
Moreover, since plastics have been around for a quite long time, everyone got used to it and production and packaging processes without the use of plastics are unimaginable in many industries in our current age.
Therefore, many companies are simply dependent on plastics in order to be able to manage their logistics.
Moreover, since plastics have been around for so long, all processes regarding our production chains have been optimized over the past decades.
Thus, since many companies rely on plastic packaging, it would be quite hard to introduce a new packaging material on a large scale and it would take plenty of time and effort for many companies to adjust their production behavior as well as their logistics.
Therefore, we are kind of trapped in plastic use since all our processes have been optimized around it.
Even though plastics are quite harmful for our environmental system right now, there might be eco-friendly plastics in the future.
Our technology continues to progress at a rapid rate and chances are that researchers might be able to find a sort of plastic that may be less harmful for our plant than the ones that are currently used in our production processes.
Therefore, synthetic materials might even be able to protect our planet at one point in the future.
Plastics are always blamed to be quite harmful for our environmental system. Although this is true to a certain extent, there are materials out there that are even more harmful for our planet. For instance, the use of aluminum can be regarded to be less eco-friendly compared to the use of plastics in many aspects.
Whether the use of plastics is truly bad for our environment depends on the alternatives we have and, in some cases, plastics may be less damaging for our planet compared to the use of other materials.
An additional upside of plastics is that they do not emit methane in the degradation process. For instance, when organic materials end up in landfills, they usually emit significant amounts of methane, which is a harmful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. However, plastics do not emit this substance. Thus, plastics can also be regarded to be better regarding the methane emission issue.
Part of our plastics are burned, which can be quite harmful to our environment since large amounts of harmful gases are emitted into our atmosphere. However, there is also an upside in this process. By burning plastics, plenty of energy can be produced and plastic waste therefore be reused in order to supply many households with electricity.
Since many companies use plastics in their production processes, numerous people are employed in the plastics industry. Those people greatly rely on their jobs and if we switched to other packaging materials instead, many people might lose their jobs.
However, to be fair, those people could also be educated in alternative packaging and may find another job pretty soon.
Since plastic is a material that is able to conserve food for quite long, it may also contribute to less food waste. For instance, imagine you bought sausages a few days ago. Without plastic packaging, chances are that those sausages will no longer be suitable for consumption pretty soon.
However, if those sausages are packaged in plastic, chances are that they may last even a few more weeks. Thus, trough the use of plastics, chances are that we will produce far less food waste.
Let’s be honest. In our current state of the world, we are heavily dependent on plastics all over the globe. Most of our companies in the production sector rely on plastics in many of their production stages. Therefore, without the use of plastics, we would no longer be able to produce goods in sufficient quantities for the mass market.
Moreover, our goods would become much more expensive. Therefore, even though a switch to more eco-friendly packaging alternatives would be possible, it would require plenty of sacrifices from all of us and we would also have to be willing to pay higher prices for our material thing.
As we have seen before, there are many advantages related to plastics. However, the use of plastics also implies serious problems. One disadvantage of plastics is that they significantly hurt our environment in many different aspects.
Plastics lead to all sorts of pollution and especially poor countries will suffer the most since they are often flooded with plastic waste from all over the world. Therefore, we should feel a global obligation to reduce plastic waste and to improve our ecological footprint.
A sad truth regarding our waste production is that our rich Western world gets rid of its waste by shipping it to poor developing countries, which is also known as environmental dumping. This is especially true for plastic waste.
Every day, many tons of plastic waste are shipped to Africa and Asia and people in those regions do not know how to deal with all this waste.
Thus, conditions in those regions are pretty bad and many people who work in waste production suffer from serious health issues.
Another downside of plastics is that they are a non-renewable resource. Plastics are made out of oil and oil will not last forever. Therefore, it might be a good idea to switch to alternative manufacturing and packaging materials since at one point in time, we as humanity will not have an alternative anymore when all the oil has been depleted and there are no raw materials anymore for the plastic production process.
Due to the non-renewable character of the raw materials in the plastic production process, the use of plastics can also be considered to be not sustainable in the long run.
Therefore, it would be better to search for suitable alternatives in time in order to avoid unpleasant consequences in the near future when oil prices will increase due to the increasing scarcity of this resource.
Moreover, it might be a great point in time for companies that engage in the development of alternative packaging methods since they might skyrocket in the future due to the problems that are associated with conventional plastic packaging.
The use of plastics also leads to significant water pollution. Many of our lakes and rivers are already significantly contaminated with plastics.
This is especially true for poor developing countries since many companies simply illegally dispose their plastic waste into nearby rivers and lakes, which causes significant water pollution and other environmental issues.
Plastics also imply significant air pollution. Since a large part of our plastic waste has to be burned in order to get rid of it, this burning process also implies the emission of large amounts of harmful gases into our atmosphere.
In turn, our air quality suffers significantly and over the long run, the chances for serious pulmonary diseases will increase significantly, especially in areas where the burning of plastic waste is quite prevalent.
Through the burning of plastic waste and the related air pollution, also the chances for the formation of acid rain increases significantly. Many people still think that acid rain is a rather minor environmental issue.
However, acid rain may cause significant problems in the long run. For instance, yields may become much lower in agriculture since plants will suffer from an increase in acidity levels in the soil.
Moreover, some buildings may also collapse since acid rain may hurt the construction material. Therefore, acid rain can be a serious issue that is also implied by the use of plastic products.
Plastic waste is also a major factor when it comes to land pollution. If you go for a walk in a nearby forest, you will soon see that those forest are no longer a natural habitat, but are rather transformed into some kind of garbage dump.
This is especially true for forests nearby big cities. People seem not to care at all about our environment and just dispose their plastic trash into the forest.
Thus, the use of plastics can also lead to significant land pollution due to the irresponsibility of some people.
Littering is another big environmental problem which can be caused by plastics. Many people just dispose their plastic trash right where they stand. If you have a look at the sidewalk of main streets, you will see plenty of litter. Most of this litter will be made of some sort of plastics.
Therefore, the use of plastics may also contribute to the littering problem, even though this is not the fault of the substance but rather the fault of people who lack the feeling of responsibility to dispose their plastic trash in trash bins rather than on the streets.
Since plastics are made out of oil, the use of plastics of all sorts also significantly contributes to the resource depletion problem. Our world population is growing and if we continue to rely on fossil resources, chances are that we as humanity will experience serious trouble in the near future. Thus, it is crucial that we protect our natural resources, which also implies a reduction of the production of plastic items.
The use of plastics also causes all sorts of visual pollution. For instance, if you walk around in big cities, chances are that you will walk over all kinds of plastic trash. This is not a pretty picture, is it?! Moreover, the burning of waste also implies the emission of significant amounts of harmful gases into our atmosphere.
Especially if you live nearby such a plastic burning facility, chances are that you will suffer from plenty of visual pollution since your home will often be covered in dense dust.
Through the emission of harmful gases into our atmosphere related to the burning of plastic waste, the global warming issue is also exacerbated. This is due to the fact that large amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted into our atmosphere, which are known to speed up global warming.
In turn, billions of people, especially those in the Southern hemisphere of our planet, will experience dramatic consequences and many of them will lose their livelihood or die from natural disasters related to global warming. Therefore, in order to protect those people, we should greatly reduce our plastic waste production.
Plenty of our plastic waste will also end up in our oceans. This is mainly caused by the fact that our rich Western countries ship their plastic waste to poor developing countries in order to get rid of it.
However, those poor countries will often have quite low regulatory standards regarding waste disposal and since they are often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of waste, they will simply dispose part of it in the ocean.
Therefore, everyone of us can contribute his or her part to reduce the ocean pollution problem by using less plastic.
Since plenty of plastic waste is illegally dumped into our forests, lakes and rivers, this waste will also contaminate the soil once it starts to degrade. In the long run, this may lead to serious soil pollution and may eventually also pollute our groundwater since contaminants will be eventually washed through the soil.
The use of plastics may also contribute to the endangerment and extinction of species. Since our nature is often used as a kind of trash dump for plastic waste, many natural environments will be contaminated and the natural living conditions of animals and plants will be adversely altered.
Therefore, animals and plants may be less capable to reproduce and if plastic pollution becomes to severe, many of them will become endangered or will even become extinct in the long run.
The use of plastics also contributes to serious health problems on a global scale. For instance, it has been shown that we all carry around large amounts of microplastics in our bodies. This is due to the fact that the fishes we consume had been contaminated with microplastics.
By eating those fishes, humans become contaminated as well. Even though there is not a congruence regarding the true health effects of microplastics among scientists yet, our common sense should tell us that it can’t be healthy to consume microplastics.
Moreover, we will also suffer from the decrease in air quality that is caused through the burning of plastics. Thus, overall, the use of plastics and the resulting plastic waste can cause many severe health problems in the long run.
Since the use of plastics has several adverse health effects and also implies the contamination of the environment on a global scale, it also implies immense social costs in the long run. Sooner or later, humanity will experience significant problems due to the use of plastics and we all will be in serious trouble if we continue to use excessive amounts of plastics on a global scale.
Another issue with plastics is that they are not biodegradable. Plastics have to be either burned or disposed into landfills in order to get rid of them. Thus, they can be considered to be quite harmful to our environment since both methods lead to serious pollution of many different sorts.
Depending on the sort of plastics, they can also take up to many hundred years until they are decomposed. This is a serious problem, especially for plastic that ends up in our oceans.
If this kind of plastic takes a quite long time to degrade, chances are that we will soon have large ocean areas that are entirely covered by plastics and which vastly contaminate our oceans.
Even though some sorts of plastics can be recycled, this is not true for all plastics. Some plastic items are non-recyclable and will therefore be either have to be burned or disposed into landfills. Both methods lead to either serious air or soil pollution and hurt our environment in the long run.
Many people are still not aware of how harmful plastic waste really is for our planet. Therefore, many people still use plastic bags just a single time and dispose them into the trash bin after that. Thus, this lack of awareness leads to the production of excessive plastic waste and the related environmental issues.
Also retailers might significantly suffer from the excessive use of plastic bags. In many countries, those bags are still free and it may cost retailers plenty of money to offer those bags to their customers in the long run.
One sad truth is that the poorest among us will have to suffer the most from the adverse consequences of the use of plastics. For instance, since large amounts of plastic waste from our Western world are shipped to poor countries, people in those countries will suffer from adverse living and working conditions.
Moreover, since plastic waste also contributes to global warming, especially poor developing countries in the Southern hemisphere of our planet will suffer the most from water shortages, natural disasters and other issues while our rich Western world will not experience too many problems.
Finally, it is still unclear how the long-term effects related to plastic waste will look like. The true extent of the problem will become obvious sooner or later and many people will be in serious trouble due to all those issues related to the production of plastic waste.
However, nobody could exactly forecast the true effects and therefore, it might be a good idea to reduce plastic waste production significantly in order to avoid unpleasant consequences in the future.
Plastics are cheap
Processes are optimized
Plastic is hygienic
Variety of different fields of application
Reduction in food waste
Will hurt the poorest among us the most
Endangerment of species
Unclear long-term effects
Plastic is a material that has many important advantages. It enables us to consume goods at a quite cheap price and has many other benefits. However, the use of plastics also implies serious environmental problems.
In the long run, the use of plastics will not be sustainable and humanity has to switch to alternatives in order to save our planet from environmental degradation.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master's degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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