Plastic: from beautiful material to world problem

In less than a century after the ingenious invention, plastics have become a global problem. It is an indispensable material, because it has a few major advantages: it does not rust, it is flexible, cheap, safe and durable. That’s why we use it in electronics, cars, packaging, furniture and utensils.

However, the advantages of the plastics are also the disadvantage: it is difficult to recycle and is not degradable. As a result, it ends up in our environment (such as plastic soup), but also in our food (microplastics). In addition, harmful substances are released when burned.

The downside of plastic

50 to 70 percent of the plastic worldwide is used only once. It then ends largely on landfill or in nature. Only a very small part is recycled or incinerated (which is also harmful to the environment).

For example, we have produced 8.3 billion tons of plastic since World War II. That generated 6.3 billion tons of waste, of which 9 percent was recycled and 12 percent incinerated. So the other 79 percent ended up in nature or in landfills.

And because we reuse it so little, more plastic is produced every year. This costs extra raw materials, but also produces even more waste.

Downside 1: we use too much, but only once

Downside 2: plastic is by no means always recyclable

In the Netherlands we collect plastic separately. But more than a quarter (28 percent) of the plastics from our household waste are non-recyclable. This is because the collected material consists of all different types of plastic that we cannot properly separate.

In addition, plastics sometimes consist of several layers, because of the chemical composition or because they are made of rare types of plastic. Think of pizza boxes, blisters (from the gum), plastic plates and cutlery and balloons. That ‘residual plastic’ can only be used for low-quality material, such as posts along the road.

The plastic that can no longer be used often ends up in the incinerator, with which it still emits CO2.

Plastic is composed of 4 to 8 percent petroleum, and for the rest of synthetic molecules. That can hardly be broken down by nature, which is why plastic does not perish.

That means that all the plastic that ever ended up in nature is still there. This leads to accumulations of plastic, for example in the sea (the plastic soup), on beaches and on the edges of cities.

Downside 3: plastic does not decay

Downside 4: incineration is not an option

The incinerator seems an easy (and cheap) way to get rid of your waste, especially if it cannot be broken down by nature. But it is still polluting, inefficient and a waste of the material.

It is burned at such a high temperature that only harmful substances are released. This not only results in the production of plastic pollution, but also in its processing.

What is the alternative?

We will have to deal with plastic differently: produce less plastic, use it longer and process it more environmentally friendly. Pi-energy processes plastic completely and in an environmentally friendly way and ensures that plastic gets a second life. Not as plastic, but as a clean energy source.


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