Artificial, synthetic or man-made polymers have become extremely popular because they are reasonably-priced and long-lasting. Originally, most synthetic polymers were not designed to disintegrate or disappear, they were created to replace glass and metal used in the manufacturing of many types of products. It is amazing how many products and applications are created using varies types of plastics; items like cars, food wrap, replacement body parts, planes, computers, water pipes, etc., are all made from various types of plastic.
The downside of synthetic polymers is their popularity in the disposable product market, they have become an issue in regards to environmental waste. Plastic is hard to get rid of and recycling has not been successful due to the many different types requiring different recycling processes. The modern plastic villains are disposable products like straws, plastic lids and cigarette filters. The problem with these products is they take decades to degrade and much of it has ends up in our rivers and oceans, some ingested by marine animals. Very little of this type of plastic gets recycled. It is estimated that only 10 percent of all plastics are recycled every year. The innovation of various types of plastic is amazing, we just need to be smarter about how we make it, use it, and recycle it when we’re done.
In the past, the environmental effects of plastic buildup have resulted in the European Union proposing a ban on single-use plastics, in hopes of reducing the manufacturing of products made of synthetic plastics. In the United States, we are also seeking to ban a few consumer items like grocery bags and straws made of plastics. Reducing these types of single-use plastics is one solution but another is to develop bioplastics and biodegradable plastics that can break down more quickly in the environment.
With society’s ever-increasing focus on protecting the environment, there’s a new emphasis on designing plastics that will disappear much more quickly. Scientists are growing closer to developing synthetic polymers that are both durable and that self-destruct or breaks down on command. This conflicting requirement has presented a real challenge, scientists are on the lookout for polymers or plastics with an integrated self-destruct mechanism. In the meantime, we should be smarter about how we use plastics and get rid of it. Some ways to reduce the burden on our environmental is to use long lasting products rather than disposable ones, repurpose items made of plastic and buy items made of recycled materials.