Sustainable, zero waste, biodegradable: these are just some of the buzzwords of the plastic-free movement that goes around the world. Until a few years ago, most of us bought, used and discarded plastic products without hesitation, but awareness of environmental protection and sustainability suddenly increases explosively. Images of huge garbage carpets in the sea, news about carcinogenic additives and littered landscapes shock us. But let’s be honest: it doesn’t come as a surprise. Or didn’t we always have a bad feeling when we threw away 20 sets of disposable tableware after the barbecue party? Your guilty conscience has a good reason – read here five facts why plastic really sucks – and why not!
- Plastic is toxic: plastic products release chemicals such as bisphenol A (contained in plastic bottles, plastic toys, receipts and cans), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (contained in petroleum and coal products such as rubber, imitation leather) or phthalates (contained in printed textiles, roofing foils and truck tarpaulins) – during manufacture, but also during use. BPA, PAH and phthalates can cause illness: they are suspected of causing a range of diseases from skin inflammation and respiratory diseases to diabetes, infertility and cancer.
- Plastic is a survivor: We all know that plastic is quite solid. When a plastic product is released into the environment, it doesn’t just disintegrate after a few weeks like fruit or vegetable waste. No, it takes 10-20 years for a plastic bag to break down. With a plastic bottle, the process even takes up to 450 years! And even if the product itself has been degraded and is no longer visible, residues, so-called microplastics, always remain and accumulate in soil and water.
- Plastic kills animals: Everyone loves animals, right? All species protection programs of the earth and the renunciation of animal products unfortunately are not helpful at all, as long as we do not stop throwing plastic garbage into the environment, at which living beings perish miserably. Animals get entangled, strangled or suffocated because they confuse garbage with food. An estimated 1 million seabirds and 100 000 marine mammals die each year directly or indirectly from our plastic waste.
- Plastic pollutes the air: Sure, driving a car is not good for the environment. But the biggest dirt doesn’t come from the exhaust – it’s caused by the tires: They are known to be made of rubber and plastic. Every single trip results in micro-plastic tyre abrasion. And this is one of the main causes of fine dust that pollutes our air.
- Plastic is expensive: Who pays for the disposal of plastic waste? And for the cleaning of parks, beaches, rivers? Yes, right, in the end every single one of us, even if he or she did not produce this waste directly. Companies and municipalities need expensive filter systems, have to take back packaging and accept damage and wear and tear caused by plastic waste on ships, for example. Consumers are forced to bear these costs through taxes and higher product prices.
But there are also a few things we love about plastic:
- Plastic is light: Clear, food and other products can also be filled and packaged in glass or stainless steel. The problem is that it’s only worth it if the packaging is reused. And this is often not the case. The production of glass consumes a lot of energy and due to its high weight, much less glass than plastic bottles fit into a truck – there are more trucks on the road and more CO2. Therefore, drinks in glass bottles are only more environmentally friendly than plastic bottles if they are reusable and are produced in your region.
- Plastic is hygienic: in medicine, for example, plastic is almost indispensable. Hygiene is the be-all and end-all – but the sterilization and disinfection of instruments and materials is time-consuming and expensive. In addition, most people tolerate plastic better than aluminium or nickel, for example. Plastic medical devices are sent to their place of use in sterile packaging and can be disposed of after use. In addition, plastic packaging that kills microbes and keeps food fresh for longer is now available.
- Plastic is flexible: Hardly any other material is as changeable as plastic. The degree of hardness, breaking strength, elasticity and temperature resistance can be easily adjusted as required. This results in many different products with different benefits. How handy is that!
- Plastic is robust: Sure, it used to be possible to do things differently or maybe people were just more careful. But isn’t it just brilliant that there are drinking bottles for children or sick people, for example, that neither break nor leak when they fall to the ground? Glass, porcelain and metal splinters, on the other hand, can be very dangerous. With normal handling, plastic products last forever.
- Plastic is cheap: Yes, you have read correctly – above we claimed that plastic is expensive. That’s also true when it comes to disposal, for example. But in many cases plastic is cheaper than materials such as steel, wood or metal.
So you see: Plastic is not generally bad! In some cases it can even be a better choice than other fabrics. And of course it would be exactly the wrong way to simply dispose of all plastic products now and buy other things for them.
What we have to learn is the conscious use of our resources. We don’t have to turn our whole lives upside down overnight. It’s great if you always have a reusable carrier bag with you in the future. Every step counts!