Plastics are common in the world today, and they are extensively being used in the packaging of things. Plastics exist in many forms, which include, polythene papers, polythene bags, plastic containers, and even fabrics made of polythene materials. However, many people use plastics, but they may not be aware of the materials and methods used in making plastics and their environmental effects. This research paper will show and explain, the primary locations of the raw materials used in making plastics, the environmental concerns tied to the manufacture of producing raw materials, the process of making plastics and how they are distributed, the environmental concerns for recycling plastics and lastly the environmental concerns for using plastics.
Societal issues in plastic production
Raw materials for making plastics are available everywhere in the world today. In the past plastic manufactures used resins from plants as the main raw materials, these resins would be obtained from the cellulose of plants such as cotton, seeds and oat hulls, but generally plant starch components were the main raw materials in the manufacture of plastics (Rosato 45).
However, technology has provided better raw materials, which mainly include petrochemicals; these are chemicals obtained from petrol and crude oil products and are largely available, and much cheaper compared to plant resins. However, these are not the only raw materials used in the manufacture of plastics; chemical addictives are used as raw materials. The chemical additives include antioxidants, plasticizers, antistatic, flame-retardants, lubricants, and ultraviolet stabilizers. All these chemical raw materials are manufactured artificially from laboratories (Rosato 56).
The manufacture of plastics has four phases. Phase 1 is the acquisition of the raw materials known as the monomer. Phase 2 is the synthesizing of the monomers into polymers. Phase 3 involves the mixing of polymers with the chemical addictives to make them of the desirable nature. Phase four, which is, the last phase involves the shaping of polymers and their condensation to get plastic materials of various types.
In the manufacture and use of plastics, there are several health issues involved. During the manufacture of plastics, the people involved in the manufacturing process are exposed direct toxicity especially when they are using mercury, cadmium and lead products as raw materials. Plastic raw materials especially the monomers and chemical addictives such as the ultraviolet stabilizers contain carcinogens; carcinogens are the causative agents of cancer.
Therefore, plastic manufacturers are at a great risk of cancer infection. Some chemical addictives used in the production of plastics cause respiratory infections especially in cases where antioxidants are being used. Plastics are not only harmful to the manufacturers but are also harmful to the consumers; plastics have the same effects to consumer as they have to the manufacturer. Research has shown that some chemical components used in the manufacture of plastics can diffuse out of the plastic packages into the edible substances they are packaging. This has resulted to adverse medical conditions such as endocrine disruptions that cause cancer among children and the old.
They also suppress the immune system exposing the body to various infection sand results to birth of children with numerous defects. The diffusible components of plastic include; chimassorb 81, irganox1010, igarnix 1076, and irganox ps 800, which diffuse from their polypropylene bottles into the vegetable oil contents, they are carrying. The other component was acetaldehyde, which diffused from bottles into the bottled water (Edlin 345). Other known health effects of the usage of plastics include defects in childbirth, changes in the genetic set up, ulcers, deafness, diseases associated with skin, indigestion, chronic bronchitis, and liver failure. The main cause of these health issues is the polyvinyl chloride. Its usage should therefore be avoided as much as possible.
Another plastic by the name of phthalates also has several health effects and they include; it causes Asthma, may hinder the reproductive system of individuals, hinders the development of young children, and causes disruption of the endocrine, and other health effects especially when the substance interacts with polyvinyl chloride. Polyurethane, which is commonly used for making pillows, cushions and mattresses leads to problems of both eyes and the skin, bronchitis and many coughs.
Its usage can also lead to release of another product by the name of toluene diisocyanate and this can cause breathing problems by making the lungs dysfunctional. Acrylic is also used in making carpets, clothes and blankets, waxes that are used in floors, diapers for young children, paints, towels for sanitary purposes and adhesives. This has adverse health effects as it brings about problems in breathing, causes feeling of weakness, leads to vomiting, fatigue, a lot of headache, and diarrhea.
Tetrafluoro- ethelyne, which is mainly used in making facilities for cooking, and the cover for the ironing boards, causes problems in breathing, and irritation in the throat, eyes and nose.
Plastic materials are mainly used in the packaging of substances both liquid and solid. The numerous products that are packaged in the various plastic substances have enhanced the wide distribution of plastics all over the world today. Research has shown that various forms of plastic substances are the most used in the packaging of most industrial products today.
Research carried out in the US showed that the plastic industry employed over one million workers and these workers highly depend on the plastic industry for their survival, this research was only in the US; this gives a speculation that every country in the world has a considerable number of its population who depend on the plastic industry (Edlin 457). With this knowledge, usage of plastics should be minimized to reduce the adverse effects of plastic use. This is because it is a crisis that is still being ignored, despite the various warnings on the effects that the plastics have on the population and the environment.
Economic Issues Associated with Plastics
Plastics have a huge economical impact in the current global market today. The manufacture of plastics is much cheaper than the manufacture of other plastic substitutes such as leather, cotton fabrics, and tin cans. Plastic manufacturing is less costly than the manufacture of these substitutes. For example, the manufacture of leather bags that are substitutes for plastic bags is very costly in terms of raw materials and the manufacturing process. Leather manufacturing is labor intensive while plastic manufacturing is machinery intensive making it easier and less expensive than leather manufacturing.
However, leather cannot produce bottles hence giving plastics a higher advantage (Edlin 356). The natural fabrics from cotton are very expensive and take time to acquire as they depend on farmers, on the other hand, polythene fabrics used to make synthetic clothes are easy and cheaper to obtain and produce than natural fabrics. Metal cans have remained the best substitutes for plastic products, but manufacturing cans is very expensive as it entails mining, transportation, and extraction of the metal from the metal ore then manufacturing of the cans. This process is a long and expensive process compared to the simple process of manufacturing plastics.
The extensive production of plastics has been due to the readily available raw materials and cost friendly production methods. Compared to its substitutes, plastic raw materials are available at the plastic manufacturing sites. Most plastic raw materials are obtained from petroleum products, which are, easily available. Although petroleum products are becoming expensive by the day, they are more cheaper compared to the other raw materials of the substitutes, this is because the substitutes raw materials involve mining, transportation, planting for cotton fabrics and breeding for leather products which is both time consuming, labor intensive and costly (Muccio 150).
Plastics are the most economical in the packaging of products because of their low production costs. The supply of plastic products is unlimited this can be proven by the many plastic products around us that range from polythene paper bags, synthetic fabrics, plastic plates, cups and dishes all over the kitchen and lastly the many items in supermarkets and retail shops that are in plastic packages. However, although plastic products are among the cheapest and most available their prices have been increasing in the recent past. The reason behind the increasing prices is believed to have been caused by the increasing petroleum products.
These have raised concern among plastic producers and plastic consumers, and are searching alternatives to maximize plastic production at the minimal cost. The cost of plastic products is expected to increase proportionally to the price increase of petroleum products. Plastics have proven to be of value that is more economical because apart from providing cheap packages, they are also being recycled to produce energy in most developed countries and industrial giants like China, India, England, and the US.
This recycling therefore leads to energy production, which can be used in many other ways economically to obtain cheap energy especially in these tough economic times. These products are also the most common in the entire world and therefore their sale has caused huge profits to all companies that make plastics. This is because many companies opt to use plastics in the packaging of their products due to their cheapness and ease of use, and acceptability worldwide.
Environmental issues of plastics
Plastics are associated with various environmental issues and unfortunately, most of these issues are negative. These environmental effects include:
The versatile and indestructible natures of plastics make them ideal for various uses both commercial and domestic, but this desirable nature has very adverse effects on the environment. The first problem associated with plastics begins with its production process because of the raw materials used. Since the main raw materials for plastic production are petroleum by- products it means that plastic, production is dependable on crude oil (Rosato 87). The mining of crude oil leads to the degradation of the environment. Many plastics are recyclable but it is unfortunate that many plastics are not recycled.
Plastics need to be recycled to avoid production of more plastics that are polluting the environment because they are being disposed all over the place. The other method is incineration, this is a method used in recycling plastics however, and it is a more expensive method as it involves energy use; however, it contributes to the emission of carbon gases and pollutes the environment (Muccio 123). Plastics are a great threat to the environment because they are not degradable and interfere with the natural composition of the soil leading to soil infertility.
This problem is common especially in places where landfills are used as a means of disposal. After the plastics are disposed, they are buried in the landfills. Nevertheless, they will exist for years to come because they are not biodegradable; therefore, all landfill becomes wasted land because it cannot be used for agriculture. These chemicals found in plastics are therefore very harmful and a big threat to the future of agriculture in the entire world but most especially in developing countries.
It should be realized that although plastics are easier and economical to produce, they are very expensive in terms of maintenance. This is because according to the above research the environmental and health issues involved with plastics are very expensive to control. Governments should make more laws that will regulate the production of plastics. Plastic producers should try to provide safety measures in the production of plastics also try to replace the petroleum plastics with bio-plastics to control the environmental and health issues associated with plastics.
Other adverse effects of plastics as found out but recent studies show that there is a connection between plastics and the health of animals such as monkeys. The dysfunction in the brain of monkeys and disorder in the mood of monkeys has also been said to be caused by a certain chemical that is present in plastics. This chemical is Bisphenol A, which is suspected to be leaking to enter into food substances and water.
Other ways of avoiding plastics usage include:
- Purchasing food products that are packed in metal or glass packets,
- Shunning the storage of foods that contain many fats in packets made of plastic,
- Not heating any food products through the plastic packets,
- Avoiding the purchase of plastic toys for the children,
- Purchasing beddings and furniture that are made of natural fiber instead of plastics,
- Keeping away from usage of products made of styrene or PVC
Other products that can be used instead o the normal harmful plastics include; PP (Polypropylene), LDPE also known as Low Density Polyethylene, HDPE also known as High Density Polyethylene, and PETE or PET, which is also, called Polyethylene Terephthalate. The usage of these plastics is recommended because of their safety as plastics as they do not have any known negative affects on the human or animal health All these are some of the recommendations to avoid the harmful effects of plastics both to the health and to the environment.
Some of the measures that can be taken to curb the negative effects of plastics in the entire world especially due to the pollution effects to the environment and the health effects to the population are many. The various governments of the world should team up to be against plastics use and manufacture. For example, the government of the United States can initiate this campaign by making very stringent policies in plastic use to discourage its production.
Plastics’ production should be illegalized by all countries in union to prevent occurrences where some countries that heavily rely on plastics like China, establish their industries in other nations that do not have impositions on plastic use and manufacture. Companies that pack their products in plastics should be given an ultimatum, after which they should have resorted to alternative packaging products that are environment friendly and without negative health effects to the population.
The respective governments should also come up with other bodies whose sole aim is to monitor the progress of companies in as far as stoppage of plastics use and production and adoption of other safer packaging materials and techniques is concerned. These bodies should closely monitor the adherence to the regulation on plastics fairly and without corruption in order to effectively deal with the problem of plastics use.
The governments can also opt to buy all plastics from the existing companies that are registered in the production of plastics. This is an effort to encourage the stoppage of the plastic production by such companies. for this to be effective, the government may state that it will only buy the plastics manufactured up to a certain date of operation after which, the plastic-production companies must have closed down their operations.
Supermarkets and all shopping centers should be discouraged from plastic paper use. Instead, they should be encouraged to use alternative packets to sell their products even if it means a rise in the commodity prices or a sale of the packages to the clients when it is supposed to be free.
The government can also discourage plastics production by imposing high taxes on the production. High tax imposition will act to discourage companies from engaging in plastic production.
The agencies that deal with environmental conservation and protection can also put many efforts in discouraging plastics use. This is by pressuring the government to act through the law and acts of parliament to prevent environmental pollution through plastics usage.
Awareness on the adverse effects of plastics use and poor disposal should also be created among all people. This can go a long way in reducing pollution of agriculturally usable land. This awareness can also help in educating people on safe ways of dealing with plastics to avoid the adverse health effects. For instance, educating the people on the dangers of eating food that is heated while packaged in a plastic bag, coming up with alternative package bags that can be utilized instead of plastics bags, and coming up with fairer prices for these recommended bags to avoid use of plastic bags just because of their cheapness.
Plastics are very useful in the current economy in the entire world due to their economical use, and their availability. They are also used in packaging most of our products. However, their health effects are much more adverse as they cause various fatal diseases and conditions. It also causes damage to the environment through pollution, and to the agriculturally usable land, by making it unproductive. It is therefore important for all parties involved in the paper use and manufacture, that is, both you and me, to understand the long term effects of the use of this product and either come up with effective techniques of coming up with environment friendly plastics or totally stop its use and manufacture to protect ourselves and our environment.
Edlin, Gordon, and Eric Golanty. Health & Wellness. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2010. Print.
Muccio, Edward A. Plastic Part Technology. Materials Park, Ohio: ASM International, 1992. Print.
Rosato, Dominick V. Plastics Engineering, Manufacturing, and Data Handbook. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001. Print.