Plastics: 10 Things You Need to Know

Plastics have been a part of our lives for more than 150 years, and they have been very useful. And because they are used in so many applications, their production has increased to more than 448 million tons (and this is expected to double by 2050).

But plastics pose hazards to humans and animals, and during the last fifty years, millions of tons of plastic wastes escapes into our waterways and heads into the world’s oceans.

Image credit: Pixabay

Here are 10 Things About Plastics that You Need to Know:

  1. Plastic is the term given to a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials that use polymers as the primary ingredient. It was first created in 1869 as a substitute for ivory.
  2. Plastics is derived from the Greek word “Plastikos,” which means “fit for molding”.
  3. Plastics are considered an organic (meaning natural) product, just like wood, paper, and wool because the raw materials used to produce plastic are cellulose, coal, natural grass, salt, and crude oil.
  4. There are 7 common types of plastics:
  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)—One of the most commonly used plastics for food containers, beverage bottles, peanut butter and honey jars, polyester clothing and rope.
  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)—Ideal for cartons, pipes and other building materials as it is strong and resistant to moisture and chemical. Detergent bottles, milk jugs, cereal box liners, plastic toys and buckets, and park benches are some products made from HDPE plastics.

    two common household items made from plastic
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl)—This type of plastic can be hard and rigid, which makes it ideal for construction materials, and since it doesn’t conduct electricity, it is often used in cabling and wires. PVC or vinyl is also impermeable to germs and can be easily disinfected so it is used a lot in medical settings. But it also leaches the most dangerous toxins during its lifecycle so it can be the most dangerous plastic to humans. IV bags, medical tubing, rain gutters, teething rings, pet toys, plumbing pipes and your credit cards may be made from PVC.
  • Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)—This type of polyethylene is light-weight and thin making it an ideal liner or packaging material. Bubble wrap, some garbage bags, sandwich and bread bags, plastic wrap, grocery sacks are made from LDPE plastic.
  • Polypropylene (PP)—This type of plastic is heat-resistant and flexible enough to be molded so it is used for take-out containers, packing tape, disposable diapers, prescription bottles, and much more.
  • Polystyrene (PS or Styrofoam)—This type of plastic is rigid, insulates its contents well, and is inexpensive so it has been used in the food, packaging, and construction industry for years. But it leaches a neurotoxin which can be easily absorbed and ingested by humans so some industries are starting to use alternatives.
  • Other—Includes all plastics that don’t fit into the above categories and have a #7 recycling code on them, though they are typically NOT recyclable. This includes eyeglasses, lighting fixtures, electronics, clear plastic cutlery, headlight lenses, and baby bottles.
  1. All plastics start with “the distillation of crude oil in an oil refinery,” according to Plastics Europe.
  2. Plastic debris was first seen in the world’s oceans as early as the 1960s.
  3. In the manufacturing process, additives are put into plastic, additives such as bisphenol (BPA) and phthalates, and in very high doses these chemicals can disrupt our endocrine systems.
  4. The effects of these chemicals on future generations of children is still unknown.
  5. Plastic trash has become so ubiquitous, the United Nations drafted a global treaty about it.
  6. On an uninhabited atoll halfway between Chile and New Zealand, scientists found plastics from Russia, the United States, Europe, South America, Japan, and China; they were carried there by a South Pacific circular ocean current.
bar shampoo from Lush

If you choose to use plastics, choose ones that aren’t single use. And when you are done with the bottle or container, make sure you recycle it as opposed to throwing it away. Or you could cut down on using plastics. For example, in our household, we have replaced those plastic containers of shampoo and conditioner with bar varieties. You can also drink your water from a reusable bottle. Innovative products have been coming onto the market to also help you avoid plastics, such as kitchen garbage bags made from plants, hand soap that comes in recycled paper cartons, and lunch box food containers made out of bamboo, ceramics or other materials—just to name a few.

For more inspiration, you can check out this article about how one person lived plastic-free for two years.

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