Our relationship with plastic

by | May 24, 2022 | Environmental, Facilities Management, Sustainability

The problem with plastic is that we can’t live without it and its universal application needs a re-evaluation. The negative effects of plastic on our environment and human health are widely known. It is common knowledge that the production and disposal of plastic is responsible for significant greenhouse emissions as it involves significant use of petroleum or natural gas. Additionally, awareness of the damaging effects of plastic waste on our environment has increased substantially in the last ten years attributed in part to the ‘Blue Planet’ effect. Other, less visible effects include the chemicals present in plastic that affect our health.

The problem with plastic

There is a large appetite for reducing our plastic usage. Businesses and individuals are encouraged to look for alternatives to plastic like eliminating single use plastics and using compostable alternatives. The benefits of plastic are manifold. It is an ideal substance for use in medicine. It is easily to sterilise and process and inexpensive to buy. It’s even possible for some plastics to be modified with coating to make them resistant to microbes. Surgery, even minor surgery would not be possible without plastics. The universality of plastic has changed the face of design and replaced organic substances like horn, ivory, and tortoiseshell. It has given us Velcro, shatterproof bottles, and CD’s (remember those!). Our dependency on it is evident but our relationship with it needs to change drastically. The detrimental effects on human health and the environment are all too real. The consequences of chemical additives to plastics are now better understood. The presence of chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol A have been attributed to health problems in humans and aquatic life. Phthalates are used to make plastic more flexible however they are endocrine disrupting chemicals. Exposure to phthalates is associated with several disorders, but most notably reproductive disorders. Additionally, the degree to which they affect health, depends on the age at which a person is exposed to them. Bisphenol A is a chemical component found in polycarbonate plastics and is present in a wide variety of items such as eyewear, food and beverage containers and the coating inside of metal food tins. Bisphenol A is a carcinogenic chemical that is considered partially responsible for the large increases in cancer of the endocrine organs during the 20th century.  The effect of these chemicals is not only evident in human health but also aquatic life where the presence of phthalates has a similarly detrimental effect on reproductive systems.

Addressing the composition of plastics and how we use them needs to change.

So, what’s changing?

The damaging effects of plastic are evident, however an increased awareness of this is fueling changes to make future plastic sustainable and to deal with existing plastic waste. The detrimental effects of chemicals in plastic have been recognised and are being addressed by organisations and individuals alike. It is abundantly clear that change must occur at all stages of plastic design, materials, manufacturing, and disposal. Strategies for making plastics more sustainable, recycling of plastics and sustainable plastics management are part of the future of the general use of plastic.

A report published in 2018 by the OECD examines the considerations and criteria of sustainable plastics from a chemical composition perspective. One issue that the report addresses is that plastics have been manufactured for decades with little focus on designing with the end in mind. Consequently, sustainable design principles are one of the areas that the report focuses on including maximising resource efficiency, designing wholistically using life cycle thinking and eliminating and minimising hazardous chemicals and pollution. However, they make the point that plastics produced in a sustainable way by using non-toxic methods and materials are not sustainable if they end up being discarded in the sea or land. Furthermore, many OECD member countries have developed policies to address the harmful areas of plastic use. It is evident that our relationship with plastic is also part of the recovery process. 

Many organisations now incorporate environmental objectives into their organisational strategy to implement sustainable business models. Some of the ways private sector companies are reacting include only using plastic when necessary and making efforts to reduce existing plastic use. Additionally, the use of recycled materials such as recycled plastic for luxury goods such as sunglasses has become normalised.

The plastic waste that we produce is now being treated as an asset and valued in a variety of new ways by start-ups and businesses. Additionally implementing sustainable plastic management encourages organisations to intervene to minimise the environmental damage of plastic. Consequently, a hierarchy of plastic waste is used to classify items from prevention (choosing a material other than plastic) to disposal. 

How can Acacia help

Plastic is an amazing material, but our relationship with it needs to change. Fortunately, this is being recognised. Facilities management can help your business manage your waste as an asset and allow for a greater degree of traceability in the disposal of plastics ensuring that its effect on the environment is minimal. Additionally, it is possible to reduce the waste at source so that the waste output is lessened. The benefits of this include reducing waste costs. Sustainable procurement is also a way that facilities management can assist by ensuring that items are procured in ethical and energy efficient ways. If you would like to speak to us about helping your business better manage your facility and discuss approaches to plastic waste, contact us here.

 

Acacia Team
Acacia Team

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