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The plastic crisis

28 November 2018

It’s one of the most talked about issues in the news today but what exactly is it and why now? Charlie Worrall, Marketing Manager, Pro Moulds (midlands) Ltd takes a look.

Whether you’re on Facebook, Instagram, the BBC New site or reading a good, old-fashioned newspaper you'll see at least one story that addresses the fact that we are using too much plastic for nominal things like water bottles. 

What is the plastic crisis exactly? 

The plastic crisis refers to the overuse of plastics, our disposal of them and figuring out what we should do to solve the epidemic. Over 100 years after the invention of plastic, we use it in almost everything we create; from the computer chip to the cars we drive every day to work. It’s very difficult to get around without seeing or even touching a piece of plastic. The use of plastics has made manufacturing cheaper, faster and easier than ever before. 

It’s needless to say that without the plastics in manufacturing, our lives wouldn't be the same. It would cost a lot more for a company to create a product if plastics aren’t used. What's more, the consumers will need to pay more for the product too. That will have a big effect on the things that people do and don't buy, they won't want to pay a higher price for the same product, which is understandable. 

However, the public has started to condemn the use of plastic full stop. They think that it shouldn't be used in any sort of manufacturing regardless of the outcome or product. This is simply due to the ongoing damage to the marine life in the oceans. There is a lot of plastic that finds its way to the ocean though lazy littering and improper disposal. 

Why now? 

The plastic crisis gained a lot of traction over the last few months. It’s become a talking point that can’t be ignored. But there have been warnings for years now, telling us about the effects we have or will have on the environment and even life itself. 

While scientists have been warning us about the effects that plastic can have on the environment, the sudden and swift recognition came about with help from David Attenborough. His documentary; Blue planet 2, offered an insight into the lives of marine animals and the effect that we’re having on them. However, we can’t just credit Attenborough with this step in the right direction. The awareness of the plastic issue has been growing for a while now. In 2010; Deutsche Welle produced a story that told the public how much plastic was in the ocean and that “only 9 percent of that waste was recycled” back then. So it’s been a long road to get to this point. 

What's the answer? 

To answer this question, you really need to be asking; should we really ban plastics? I’d argue against banning the use of plastics altogether. Instead; look to its uses. We should be evaluating the uses of plastics and making a positive, sensible decision. 

An example of this would be to look into banning plastic bags. Does it make sense to do so? Can we create an alternative? I feel that it would make sense to scrap the idea of plastic bags, we have alternatives in use already and yes, it does make sense to do so. It's a difficult subject and needs to be talked about instead of just telling everyone else how to go about it. For example; ensuring we have a sustainable solution that can do the job properly before imposing a ban is necessary. 

On the other hand, there are aspects of manufacturing that offers a logicality for the use of plastics. Creating car interiors benefit from this due to the fact that it’s light and durable. Making the car’s interior last longer and weigh less means that there are fewer repairs that need to be made, resulting in fewer materials used. What's more the lighter the car is, the less fuel will be needed for it to move; producing fewer emissions. The use of thermoplastics in injection moulding is an important part of the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers are able to produce products, tools and parts that otherwise would be impossible to make. 

It would appear that the problem is not plastic itself, the properties that make it dangerous also make it useful and a great material. The fact that plastic has a presumed lifespan of around 500 years means that we’re able to reuse it over and over again. So, with this, the problem is arguably how we use plastic. 

If we use it in necessary situations that benefit us, will that be okay? I feel that responsible use of recyclable plastics will be a great thing. Especially after we’ve scaled the uses down and stopped creating plastic bottles and other unnecessary plastic products. This would result in the reuse of plastic, so we won't have to create more and more, year after year. 

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