“…You need to do a conversion in your way of thinking in order to begin to love waste as a material.” Taeke de Jong (Ed van Hinte, 2007, 78).
The increased acceptance of plastics by consumers and industry is due to their clear advantages over other materials. Their low weight and low material requirements are by far their most important asset. In comparison with a glass bottle, for example, a plastic one of the same volume has only one-eighth of the weight. They also have good mechanical strength, are impermeable to water and are very cheap, which has made them very popular with consumers.
Plastics are produced from petroleum refining by-products, which, instead of being burned and polluting the environment, are converted into plastics. Plastics can be used for a long time; they can be recycled or burned to produce energy. On the other hand, the low production costs, the equally small demands on raw materials and energy, the simple production processes and the wide variety of plastics have helped to develop a thriving industry around their production which, through the science of plastics, constantly finds new uses and new materials to meet ever-increasing needs.
“… The remains of the past are neither rejected nor left unused but should seriously take part in the formation of the new …” (Fayet R. 2003, 102)
Systematic studies in recent years have shown that plastics are the least energy-consuming in their production, the most advantageous in terms of weight and less polluting than other materials (paper, metal, etc.).
Plastics used as packaging materials, in addition to the significant advantages mentioned above, also have a significant disadvantage. When (misguidedly) discarded into the environment, they pollute it. Packaging materials made of polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene are ultimately biodegraded by naturally occurring micro-organisms into carbon dioxide, water and biomass.
At the same time, hydro-biodegradable packaging materials are produced from starch-based materials (e.g. corn), which also contribute to sustainable development.
The great advantage of ALL of the plastics is that they can be recycled
Today, we as consumers throw our plastic materials (mainly packaging) into the rubbish without a second thought, ignoring the fact that they can have serious environmental impacts or that they are a useful raw material for the plastics industry.
Plastic recycling is something we can very easily help with. All plastic packaging has a special label on it that indicates what material it is made of. This helps sorters at Collection Centres of Recyclable Materials to separate them. This is very important because, unfortunately, different types of plastics can rarely be mixed with each other when recycled. Recycling is usually done by mechanical means, grinding down the original packaging to create new products after impurities have been removed (labels, glass, residues). More efficient, but clearly more difficult, is chemical recycling, in which the polymer is broken down into its structural elements (monomers), separated and then used again to produce new polymers. This method is currently being applied to a limited extent, such as at the PVC recycling plant in Ferrara, Italy.
“Instead of treating waste as a problem, consider it a potentially valuable resource.”