Plastics And Our Environment Essay, Research Paper
Plastics today play an important part in cutting-edge technologies such as the space program,
bullet-proof vests and prosthetic limbs, as well as in everyday products such as beverage containers,
medical devices and automobiles. Recycled plastics are used to make polymeric timbers for use in picnic
tables, fences, and outdoor toys, thus saving natural lumber. Plastic from 2-liter bottles is even being spun
into fiber for the production of carpet. They are such a valuable resource, that, as a society, we have
become dependent on plastics. It is essential that we develop programs to assure this resource will always
be available in the future.
Plastics are being used in so many different ways. Whether you are aware of it or not, plastics play
and important part in your life. Plastics’ versatility allow it to be used in everything from car parts to doll
parts, from soft drink bottles to the refrigerators they are stored in. From the car you drive to work in to the
television you watch when you get home, plastics help make your life easier and better. So how is it that
plastics have become so widely used? How did plastics become the material of choice for so many varied
applications? The simple answer is that plastics are the material that can provide the things consumers want
and need. Plastics have the unique capability to be manufactured to meet very specific functional needs for
consumers. So maybe there’s another question that’s relevant: What do I want? Regardless of how you
answer this question, plastics can probably satisfy your needs. If a product is made of plastic, there’s a
reason. Chances are the reason has everything to do with helping you get what you want; whether it be
health, safety, performance or value. Plastics help make these things possible.
Recycling is one of the processes that has been major part of our lives for many years. The number
of plastics recycling businesses has tripled since 1990, with more than 1,700 businesses handling and
reclaiming post-consumer plastics (American Plastics Council, 2). Through their support of economically and
environmentally responsible and sustainable plastics recycling, the plastics industry and organizations such
as the American Plastics Council have played a role in that growth. During the period between 1990 and
1998, the plastics industry invested more than $1 billion to support increased recycling within the United
Sates. APC continues to work with communities and business to promote plastic recycling opportunities.
Plastics are derived from natural resources typically oil and natural gas. And yet, because plastics
are so efficient, their application often conserves other resources during a product’s life cycle when
compared to the alternatives. For example, plastics’ unique characteristics – light weight, durability,
formability; enable manufacturers to minimize the material used, energy consumed and waste
generated in making products ranging from coffee cups to automobiles.
Through effective resource conservation, we all can mitigate the impact of consumption on the
planet by using the earth’s resources wisely. This includes making and choosing products that minimize the
energy consumed and environmental impact during production, through the life of a product, and on to final
disposal. Sometimes all you need to do is reuse. Reuse provides another significant way to conserve
resources. Plastics’ durability allows many products and packaging to be reused over and over again. Not
surprisingly, in a 1997 survey, Wirthlin Worldwide found that more than 80 percent of Americans reuse
plastic products and packaging in their home. Plastics are durable, making it a material of choice for
commonly reused items, such as food storage containers and refillable sports bottles. Reuse of plastics
reduces trash disposal costs and extends landfill capacity. For example, as much as 40 percent of certain
plastic parts from damaged or discarded cars are repaired and reused, reducing the amount of automotive
components sent to landfills. Laundry products are also being packaged in reusable plastic bottles and small,
refill packages of concentrated product — helping to reduce packaging waste.
Plastics can also help conserve energy in your home. Because of the superior insulation properties
of plastics, vinyl siding and windows help reduce energy consumption and lower your utility bills. Vinyl
windows, for instance, can save the average homeowner between $150 and 450 each year on heating and
cooling costs compared to other types of windows (Franklin Associates, 7).
Yet another important way to conserve resources is to recover the energy value of products after
their useful life has ended. One such method involves combusting municipal solid waste (MSW) or garbage in
waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities. Modern energy recovery facilities burn MSW in special combustion
chambers, then use the resulting heat energy to generate steam and electricity. This process can reduce the
volume of MSW to be landfilled by as much as 90 percent (Environmental Protection Agency, 7).
Plastics have become an integral part of our lives. Assuring that they will always be available
should be a national and worldwide priority. I believe that together, the efforts to use the earth’s resources
more efficiently, when combined with those of industry and business can help to minimize our impact on the
planet. Wherever it makes environmental and economic sense, we should try to recover the value of
discarded materials, using a combination of options including reuse, landfilling, energy recovery through
combustion, and recycling. Our standard of living depends on our success at this endeavor.