By Katherine Ph.D.
Head of BioTechnology
Plastics have conquered our world! One might wonder how did that happen? The answer lies in history. It was at the beginning of the last century that we found a novel and cheap method to synthesize plastic. Later, the beginning of World War II triggered the expansion of the plastic industry as a necessity to preserve limited natural resources. After the war, we started gradually to incorporate plastics in every aspect of our lives and why not!? Plastics are such amazing materials; they are versatile, flexible, durable, strong, moldable, indestructible and economical.
It when we started to use of plastics in packaging material especially for “single-use” packaging or products, that Plastics were seen as something cheap, fragile, and disposable. Today 40 % of our plastic use is from packaging material. When we discard the plastic grocery bag after shopping or the ‘plastic wrap ‘around the package from the items we bought, it is more likely that it will end up in landfills, lakes, ocean or best case scenario, burned, rather than being recycled, and if you wonder why? It is because recycling is not profitable!
In 2018, Sir David Attenborough at the end of Blue Planet II highlighted the harmful effect the discarded plastics have on our marine life and environment by displaying a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck up his nose. It received a lot of media hype, especially by the anti-plastic campaign. Even Queen Elizabeth II jumped on board and declared war on plastics.
But the plastic is not our enemy!! The mindless way we use and handle plastics today, however, is! Do we really need to wrap plastics around fruit and vegetables in the supermarket? Or wrap water gallons, which by the way are made of hard plastic and perfectly sealed with another soft plastic? Or when shopping for groceries, using a smaller plastic bag for one item that is by itself already have a plastic packaging which is going to end up in the bigger shopping bag anyway? Once, I ordered food which was wrapped around several layers of plastics, even the rice wrapped inside the banana leaves was wrapped around a layer of plastics. And when things start to go wrong, we demonize plastics and blame them for destroying us and all life on our planet.
Next, we are banning plastics and demanding it to be replaced, but with materials with the same qualities as plastics, just to continue behaving the same way, thinking it would solve our problem.
One thing is certain; plastics are here to stay!! Up until we come up with novel ways to eliminate their harmful nature or find materials with the same qualities and abilities as a substitute, we should stop this ridiculous habits of misusing these amazing materials.
1. Joseph L. Nicholson and George R. Leighton, “Plastics Come of Age,” Harper’s Magazine, August 1942, p. 306.
2. Susan Freinkel, Plastics: A Toxic Love Story (New York: Henry Holt, 2011), p. 4.
3. Statistics on what impact the series had on viewers – BBC Pulse Survey (UK)
4. Laura parke (2019), Fast facts about plastic pollution, national geographic, retrieved 2019
5. Clare Golds berry (2018), pressure to reduce consumption of single-use plastic packaging will continue into 2019, plastic today
6. Deniz Gülsöken, 2018, Plastic Isn’t the Enemy, Our Single-Use Mindset Is, Forbs