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Plastic as a Material of Choice

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Last updated date: 17th Apr 2024
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Introduction

Plastic is everywhere. We go to supermarkets, we will find plastic bags, we see cars on roads that are synthesised by plastics, we brush our teeth using toothbrush which is also made up of plastic, we eat with utensils and plates made up of plastic, we buy vegetables and fruits in plastic bags, we use plastic everywhere, and almost all of the household tools are made up of plastic.

Plastic has taken over the world with its wide range of uses and properties such as lightweight, inexpensive, and reusable. Plastic materials have become an integral part of our lives.

Nearly four hundred million tons of plastic are produced annually and consumed by people in just single use. With more advantages come disadvantages too. As much as people are fond of using plastic to sav easier, it is proving to be life-threatening to many animals and marine life. Plastic has a variety of defects and drawbacks, which we will learn further in this article.

What is Plastic Material?

  • Plastic is a polymeric material consisting of semi-synthetic and synthetic materials.

  • Polymers have the capability of moulding and shaping by the application of heat and pressure.

  • Polymers are chemical compounds containing large molecules made up of interconnected links.

What is a Plastic Material Made Up Of?

  • Plastic material is made up of two types of polymers based on their chemical composition.

  • The first category consists of polymers having only aliphatic, that is, linear carbon atoms in their backbone chains.

  • The other category consists of heterochain polymers containing atoms like oxygen, nitrogen, or sulphur in their backbone chains with carbon.

  • There are two types of plastic: thermoplastics and thermosets.

  • Thermoplastics like polyethene and polystyrene can be moulded and remoulded repeatedly and do not change when exposed to heat.

  • Thermosets are opposite to thermoplastics and can be moulded only once and do not change shape on heat.

  • Thermoplastics such as polyethene are the most used polymer in the world.

  • Polyethene is primarily used in packaging materials such as bottles, containers, and plastic bags.

Harmful Effects of Plastic

  • Plastic bags are used by a great number of people, even after knowing the consequences of using them hamper the environment.

  • In urban areas, plastic bags are found in large numbers in the litter system which includes various detrimental effects like animal choking, blockage of channels, rivers, streams, and pollution.

  • Plastic takes many years to decompose, and toxic substances are also released into the soil under sunlight.

  • If plastic bags are burned, they can release toxic chemicals and foul smells into the air causing air pollution.

  • Plastic causes the collection of carcinogenic compounds, which may cause cancerous diseases.

  • Plastic bags emit dangerous gases like methane and carbon dioxide and highly toxic contaminated water when plastic bags are dumped into landfills which occupy tons of land space during their decomposition stage.

  • Animals sometimes eat plastic bags in place of food which can block the digestive process.

  • Animals can get entangled in plastic bags, which can cause starvation, infection, and reduced reproduction.

Advantages of Using Plastic

  • Most metals tend to get corroded by air and water, but plastics do not react with air or water and cannot be corroded easily. They are used for making many utensils and storing various chemicals since they are non-reactive.

  • Plastic materials are very light in weight. They are also durable and strong in comparison with other materials. They can also be moulded in different shapes and sizes as required.

  • Plastic is cheaper than metals and is used widely in various household products.

  • Plastic is a poor conductor of heat and electricity and can be used as an insulator. It is used for making electric wires and switches. The screwdrivers are also made up of plastic handles that acts as an insulator. Electrical equipment and kitchen tools are also made up of plastic, such as handles of utensils and frying pans.

  • Plastic material is resistant to various acids and bases and is used to make containers for storage.

  • Plastic has the capability to be moulded into different shapes and sizes. They can be used to make many articles such as buckets, mugs, toys, combs, toothbrushes, and furniture.

Key Features

  • Plastic is also coloured in various colours to attract consumers. Pigments and organic dyes such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, carbon, and various other inorganic oxides are used for coating plastic tools.

  • Plastic is also incorporated into various other industries, such as the food industry and health care industry, for packaging tablets, syringes, gloves, and other medical instruments.

  • Plastic is also used in firefighters' uniforms in the form of melamine to protect them from fire.

FAQs on Plastic as a Material of Choice

1. Is plastic biodegradable?

Even if the labels of certain plastic include headings like compostable and biodegradable, they necessarily do not mean the same. Plastics are non-biodegradable and are continuously hampering the earth's ecosystem and environment. They can be partially recycled, and certain plastics which come under biodegradable require specific conditions and sunlight to go through the process.

They do not completely biodegrade but leave behind traces of toxic materials which can corrupt the soil and nature. Plastics can never biodegrade or compost naturally and will always prove to be harmful to the environment. 

2. What are bioplastics?

Bioplastics are materials that are biodegradable and come from natural or renewable sources to reduce the plastic waste that is contaminating the environment. Bioplastic has several uses, including reduction of carbon footprint, does not contain any additives that can be harmful, does not involve the consumption of nonrenewable materials, does not change the odour or colour of the food stored in them, and provides energy savings in production. 

3. What measures should be taken to minimise plastic usage?

There are several measures that can be taken to overcome the usage the plastic. 

  • Instead of using plastic straws, we can use paper straws while drinking beverages. 

  • We can use our own cloth bags for shopping instead of taking plastic bags from vendors.

  • The usage of plastic containers should be minimised while buying food; we can carry steel or glass containers.

  • To arrange various awareness programs to make people aware of the disadvantages and effects of using plastic and to motivate them to use other replacements.