Plastic itself has so many different uses that you wouldn’t believe. It’s in your shirt, your socks, your gloves. Not just in the obvious places, plastic has become such a necessity of human life that most people don’t even notice it anymore. Did you realise that your tea bag has been sealed with a type of plastic? I bet you didn’t.
The thing with plastic is the simplicity of it. It is made up of long chain carbon molecules that repeat themselves to make what we call polymers. The individual strands of these polymers can merge together to form pretty much any shape you can imagine. At the beginning of plastic manufacturing, it was sourced from natural materials, but soon after, oil became the more common way of mass plastic production. This is the type of plastic that we still use today. The issue with modern plastic is that it won’t degrade for hundreds of years. That plastic bottle your mother used to feed you with when you were a tiny tot still exists out in the universe somewhere, and will absolutely outlive you.
So, how can we change that?
How can we change a culture dependant on plastic? By making the same products, without plastic. Some material replacements would be glass, wood and metal. These substances, we all know, are recyclable and reusable. Sometimes it’s not as simple as that though. One simply can’t change the floors in their entire house because their carpet has plastic fibres. Some can’t afford to be picky with what clothes they choose to buy. The way to make plastic truly go away is a slow and steady uphill walk. We will get there, but it will take innovation and dedication. Having said this, there are already many alternatives other than glass wood and metal on the market today.
Here are just a few examples of plastic alternatives
• Bagasse – the fibre that is left after juice from the sugarcane plant has been extracted. It has many uses ranging from the production of paper, to a type of fuel. This plant fibre can also be used to create biodegradable plastics.
• Starch – a natural polymer that can be used to make many materials. Although it will never be as strong as plastic, it can be added to plastic mixtures to make the end result more biodegradable.
• Cellulose – ethyl cellulose is made from wood pulp or cotton lint and is used to make films or plastics for electrics.
• Lignin – also known as tree glue, this substance works in similar ways to cellulose and can make mouldable plastic.
• Grape waste – the material, such as stones and skin, that remains after the production of wine. This can be made into leather-like products and could replace the plastic used to make faux leather clothing.
• Milk protein – the sugar found in milk is called casein and can be mixed with a silicate clay to produce a polystyrene-esque end product that is biodegradable.
With oil stores continually declining and landfills constantly increasing, the development of reusable plastic alternatives is not only a lucrative business opportunity, but an absolute necessity to limit its damaging effect on the environment.