The damaging effect of plastic waste on the environment has become one of the most important topics of the 21st century. Governments and environmental groups are discussing and implementing methods of combating a rising tide of plastic that has left our oceans seriously under threat.
According to the latest statistics, the total amount of plastic produced in the first decade of the 21st century is higher than the total amount manufactured between 1900 and 1999. Problems occur because plastic takes so long to break down and it also contains toxic pollutants that cause sea, land and air pollution.
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Damaging effects of waste plastic
Scientific research has revealed that there are 13 billion tonnes of plastic waste polluting the earth today. The ocean is the worst affected – around 100,000 marine creatures and one million seabirds die each year after becoming fatally entangled in plastic bags, or the ring-shaped plastic packaging from cans of drinks.
Fish, seabirds, whales, dolphins and other marine wildlife are ingesting the waste, which causes fatalities. A staggering 12 million tonnes of plastic rubbish ends up in the sea every year, having disastrous consequences, and as plastic can take hundreds of years to disintegrate, scientists estimate that if we carry on dumping waste at our current rate, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050!
Government’s green scheme
The British government has implemented the 25 Year Environment Plan in an effort to stop the rising tide of plastic. The blueprint for change, released in 2018, urges people to make lifestyle changes themselves to help save the planet. It also offers helpful advice.
Schools are being urged to ban single-use plastics to educate the next generation on how they must make changes. Carelessly-discarded plastic drinking straws, food packaging, bottles and plastic bags are some of the major causes of pollution.
Supermarkets have already started charging for plastic bags to discourage their use, while some major retailers are phasing out single-use bags altogether, in favour of “bags for life”, or canvas and paper alternatives, but the bid to save our planet before it’s too late can be successful only if everyone makes lifestyle changes too.
Plastics in the home
Although reducing plastic waste may seem an insurmountable task on the surface, if every household in the UK started recycling, everyone’s combined efforts would make a huge difference. For many people, recycling is confined to the kitchen, where we put plastic food packaging in the appropriate bin.
Drinks bottles, bread bags, milk jugs, condiment bottles and more are usually put in the recycling bin, but many householders forget about other plastic containers that can also be recycled – these include containers for shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, medicine, detergent, mouthwash, floor cleaner and just about any other plastic container used in the home. You can also recycle the bottle caps as well.
What happens to recycled plastics?
Some used plastics are recycled into consumer products, made from beautiful and functional plastic building materials. People who choose to purchase recycled goods are helping the environment, no matter how small their contribution.
One use is to make plastic lumber, a durable building material which can be used outdoors. It is usually manufactured with HDPE, the heavy-duty plastic that’s used for milk jugs. Other flexible plastic wraps and grocery bags can also be turned into plastic lumber, which resembles wood.
Plastic timber is resistant to moisture and it does not need much maintenance. Unlike wood, it won’t be damaged by insects either. It can be used for decking, fences, swimming pool enclosures and railings. It will look good and it lasts a long time.
It also stops large amounts of plastic from going to landfill sites. For example, one plastic lumber maker has reported using 3.1 billion recycled grocery bags to manufacture its products in 12 months.
Some manufacturers are now making heavy duty floor tiles from recycled plastic. They are ideal for areas of the home that are exposed to moisture or heat, such as bathrooms, patios or basements. They are often used by householders for a DIY project, as many tile designs will simply snap into place.
Thanks to the versatility of plastic, the tiles come in numerous finishes and can be made to look like more traditional floor coverings, such as stone, brick and wood.
Carpeting can also be made from recycled plastic drinks bottles, which are cleaned, melted and stretched into a thread, before being woven into a hardwearing yet soft carpet fibre – available in many colours to complement any home’s interior.
Launching the product in 1999, one company, which was an innovator of plastic carpets, says it has used some 30 billion plastic bottles in the past 20 years, preventing them from ending up in landfill sites.
Recycled plastics also have excellent insulation properties. More companies are developing ways of recycling plastic products such as bottles into roof, wall and floor insulation. As with the manufacture of carpets, the same process is used to melt bottles and weave the molten plastic into hollow fibres, which will trap air.
The resulting products will keep your home warmer in winter and cooler in summer. This can reduce energy costs for home heating and air conditioning, while also contributing to sustainability.
Some companies are even manufacturing attractive countertops from recycled HDPE plastic, taken from used detergent and milk jugs. The resulting counter-tops are suitable for bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, or any room that needs a durable and tough working surface. Manufacturers say the recycled plastic counters will last for many years.
It’s important to try and recycle plastics wherever possible. Even if you start in just a small way, every little helps.
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