Plastics And Our Environment


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.

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