Pollution problems of plastics - Strategies to reduce the environmental impact:
Industrial practices in plastic manufacture can lead to polluting effluents and the use of toxic intermediates, the exposure to which can be hazardous. Better industrial practices have led to minimizing exposure of plant workers to harmful fumes.
There is growing concern about the excess use of plastics, particularly in packaging. This has been done, in part, to avoid the theft of small objects. The use of plastics can be reduced through a better choice of container sizes and through the distribution of liquid products in more concentrated form. A concern is the proper disposal of waste plastics. Litter results from careless disposal, and decomposition rates in landfills can be extremely long. Consumers should be persuaded or required to divert these for recycling or other environmentally acceptable procedures. Marine pollution arising from disposal of plastics from ships or flow from storm sewers must be avoided.
Recycling of plastics is desirable because it avoids their accumulation in landfills. While plastics constitute only about 8 percent by weight or 20 percent by volume of municipal solid waste, their low density and slowness to decompose makes them a visible pollutant of public concern. It is evident that the success of recycling is limited by the development of successful strategies for collection and separation. Recycling of scrap plastics by manufacturers has been highly successful and has proven economical, but recovering discarded plastics from consumers is more difficult.
Strategies to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Plastics:
(a) Reduce the use - Source reduction Retailers and consumers can select products that use little or no packaging. Select packaging materials that are recycled into new packaging - such as glass and paper. If people refuse plastic as a packaging material, the industry will decrease production for that purpose, and the associated problems such as energy use, pollution, and adverse health effects will diminish.
(b) Reuse containers - Since refillable plastic containers can be reused for many times, container reuse can lead to a substantial reduction in the demand for disposable plastic and reduced use of materials and energy, with the consequent reduced environmental impacts. Container designers will take into account the fate of the container beyond the point of sale and consider the service the container provides.
(c) Require producers to take back resins - Get plastic manufacturers directly involved with plastic disposal and closing the material loop, which can stimulate them to consider the product’s life cycle from cradle to grave. Make reprocessing easier by limiting the number of container types and shapes, using only one type of resin in each container, making collapsible containers, eliminating pigments, using water-dispersible adhesives for labels, and phasing out associated metals such as aluminum seals. Container and resin makers can help develop the reprocessing infrastructure by taking back plastic from consumers.
(d) Legislatively require recycled content - Requiring that all containers be composed of a percentage of post-consumer material reduces the amount of virgin material consumed.
(e) Standardize labeling and inform the public - Standardized labels for "recycled," "recyclable," and "made of plastic type X" must be developed for easy identification.