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The Future of Plastics

Note: Sorry for the absence, been doing GCSE’s. Not that I don’t have ideas for posts now, just lack motivation to actually fully flesh them out. So here’s something I wrote a little while back with a friend for a school article (in case they for some reason come looking on this blog, it’s the same person XD)

Something probably soon.

~MW

The future of plastics in our world

By Amy Jiang and Aanya Arora

Recently in the UK and in other countries worldwide the promotion of organic, reusable bags over conventionally less sustainable plastic carriers has increased following a global rise in interest over environmental affairs. However a recent study conducted by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency compared the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) figures between 14 different types of carrier bag and concluded that the most sustainable type of bag was actually low density polyethylene (LDPE): thick, glossy bags often seen at department stores.

 

The LCA determines the sustainability of a product using 14 different categories including manufacturing, shipping, disposal and its impact on factors such as greenhouse gas emissions (carbon footprint), depletion and pollution of water bodies and production of potentially harmful byproducts. Surprisingly, LDPE bags came out ahead, despite it having a higher carbon footprint then organic bags (which is the basis for most current sustainability studies); cotton and other organic bags require more land and resources, also meaning that these types of carriers must be reused much more in order to make up for the amount of resources required during manufacturing. To match LDPE bags [in climate impact] being used twice-once for shopping and secondly as a trash bag-cotton bags would need to be reused at least 52 times, and 149 times if it’s organic. And if you compare plastics to organic bags in every LCA category, normal cotton bags would have to be reused 7,100 times and an astounding 20,000 more times if it was organic.

 

Another type of potentially more sustainable material is a type of biodegradable plastic by Biome Bioplastics which aims to remove the waterproof layer of polyethylene which prohibits the recycling of takeaway coffee cups. It is fully biodegradable and the first type of bioplastic made for disposable cups and lids that is completely recyclable and provides an alternative and more sustainable use for plastics, since they are already used globally and still extremely useful.

Ocean Graph BBC.png

On the other hand a major factor the LCA does not take into account coastal areas and the impact of microplastics and general plastic pollution on marine ecosystems. Places like California have noticed a beneficial decline in plastic bags on shores and in the oceans since it was banned, leading to less microplastics infiltrating major aquatic food chains and potentially reaching humans with sub-lethal effects. Plastics can have hidden devastating consequences on the environment, and the most common type of microplastic just happens to be polyethylene.

 

To conclude, plastic bags may be more sustainable than we thought, however locational factors can augment already severely polluted areas. As Ian Graber-Stiehl posed in his article on the LCA study, ‘if plastic bag bans can reduce pollution, but leave us with bags that are less sustainable in other categories, what are we to do?’

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