When something is of great advantage to us, or is good on phenomenal proportions, a popular way of describing it is calling it ‘the greatest thing since plastic’. And that makes perfect sense; since its invention in the early 1900’s, plastic has invaded literally every sphere or human life. It is strong, durable, and extremely inexpensive, and we can use it for almost everything. Need to carry groceries? Take a plastic bag. Have to pack your lunch? Take a plastic container. From water bottle to saline drips, we use plastic in everything.
Pros of plastic 👍
First, let us look at the advantages of plastics.
Plastics are incredibly durable. According to research, it takes around 400 years for a plastic bag to degrade. This is a great indicator of how easily one can use and reuse any object made of plastic. When you get a plastic bag to buy groceries, you can reuse it multiple times, irrespective of the weather, provided you do not accidentally tear or burn a hole through it. A paper bag or jute bag will not last you more than a year at most, while a bag made of plastic, if used carefully, can last decades.
Plastic has the ability to retain taste and smell. This is a reason why lunchboxes are increasingly made of plastic. When you carry your lunch in a plastic box, you are ensuring that the food will stay warmer for long and will also retain its original flavor, so that you are not faced with the possibility of eating an insipid lunch. Besides, plastic containers can be made airtight, thus reducing the possibility of your food spoiling even hot and humid weather conditions.
Plastic is incredibly cheap to produce. This is the real reason why it took over the world so fast, and why there are so many challenges in replacing it with a substitute. It is possible to create a material that is as versatile and as durable as plastic, but none of them will come as cheap as plastic; in fact, they will probably cost a fortune to make. With the costs being so high, it will be difficult to market them to the common public as an all purpose product to be used regularly.
Cons of plastic 👎
Despite all its benefits, we cannot deny that plastics are doing more harm than good today. Here, let us take a look at the problems plastics are causing for us.
To begin with, their very durability, which is one of its strongest aspects, is becoming a problem. As mentioned before, it takes around 400 years for the common plastic bag to disintegrate. The stronger the plastic gets, the more durable it is, and the more time it takes for it to degrade. At the rate plastic is being used and discarded every single day, most of the landfills in the world are composed mainly of plastic, and none of it will be composted any time soon. And it is not just the land; the water bodies on earth are also getting clogged by plastic.
Threat to life
When plastic gets deposited anywhere, in land or in water, it stays there without changing form or shape. As a result, it keeps clogging the area where it is being deposited. Plastic deposits in water can grow to take on the size of entire states, and a huge number of marine life gets caught up in it and suffocate to death. Not only that; many small marine animals mistake bits of plastic as food and ingest it, resulting in painful deaths because of the undigested plastic. The same happens to land animals when they accidentally ingest bits of plastic lying around.
Apart from the environmental threats that plastic poses in its creation and recycling process, it can also be pretty harmful when we consume it directly and indirectly. For instance, the chemical additives BPA and phthalates are used to make plastic to ensure that they do not degrade easily. When we eat food from plastic plates and containers, or drink from plastic bottles, these chemicals are also ingested. They have been linked to several hormonal imbalances in humans, such as lowering of testosterone levels in men and inducing early onset of puberty in women.
The biggest advantage of plastic is in its durability. Nothing matches up to its strength and shelf life. Ironically, it is this that is today becoming the scourge of the earth. The use of plastics is being vehemently opposed by conservationists and common people alike, and it has been unanimously agreed upon that the use of plastics must be banned if we wish to continue to keep the earth a habitable place. Unless we are able to reduce our dependence on plastics, and switch to a more degradable, if less tenacious, alternative, the earth, and us, is in grave danger indeed.