We live in an era where information is so abundant that it is becoming really difficult to differentiate between what is true and what is false. As giving an own opinion freely has become one of the main conquer of our contemporary society, we should also develop a new skill: to identify what is actually an opinion, based on our own judgement, and what is instead a factual data. Aided by skepticism and conspiracy theorists, we nearly reached a reverse situation in which factual data have become debatable, a point of view, while the opinion of the single person is actually considered reality.
In this reverse situation one of the victims are plastics: many times, their contribution to our daily lives has been overlooked and it should be cleared up and established. How many of the products we use on a daily basis are made of or have some parts in plastic? Food packaging, home appliances, electronic devices, furniture, cars, personal care products and clothes? This list could go on much further. That said, it does not want to demonstrate that plastics are the best absolute material to be used for everything and to be worshipped, but instead a closer consideration should be given. How much how what we use is actually necessary? How can it be reduced? How can it be improved? Through an analysis of some of the most common myths around plastics, we would like to shed some light on this topic.
There is not a market for recycled plastics
The demand for recycled plastics is constantly increasing. Thanks to the development of new technologies that are able to obtain a higher quality recycled material, such as the one suitable for direct contact with food. When we take a look into the bottled water market, commonly taken as an example for the fight against plastic, many firms are already using up to 50% recycled material in their products and in the next future it could go up to 100%. As of today, with the European Union goal to increase the recycling percentage until at least 65% for packaging and 50% for the other plastic material before 2025, will only increase even more the demand for recycled plastics.
We can substitute non-recyclable materials with other that are recyclable.
In the packaging industry, especially for food, it is essential protecting the supplies to avoid wasting them, as in Italy food waste is valued nearly 15 billion, and to respect health and hygiene regulations. Zero-kilometer products should be preferred to sustain local producers but this is not always possible. The UN report estimates that 68% of the world’s population will live in cities or other urban centers, compared to the current 55%, therefore there is the need to provide supplies in metropolitan areas. In this context, other indices play an important role such as transportation and mass occupied and for all the previous, plastic has more advantages when compared to other materials like metal and glass. According to the data from the report about EDP (Environmental Product Declaration) certified packaged food products, it has been demonstrated that the environmental impact of a food product wasted is on average four times bigger compared to its own packaging. A potential product loss would thus have a greater impact on the environment because of a subsequent waste of resources.
That said, it does not mean that everything should be packed in plastic, because the main problem still remains the waste of resources. Double packed goods that makes the good more aesthetically attractive are to be removed. We should use more efficiently what we already have, this is the truth.
Plastic should be avoided because comes from oil or other fossil fuels.
Less than 4% of oil or natural gas extracted at a global level is used for the production of virgin plastic (source: UnionPlast) From such a small quantity, it is possible to produce a very large quantity of plastics. Thanks to recycling, this percentage can continue to decrease until it disappears.
Plastic is not sustainable
First of all, how is sustainability measured? If CO2 emissions are taken into consideration, plastic, especially the recycled one, is sustainable. The production and transformation could save up at least 60% of the energy compared to the virgin material. The lower weight in comparison to metal or glass leads to lower emissions for transportation and distribution, while the durability grants an adequate protection of goods, making sure that they are not discarded because they have been ruined. When plastic is correctly disposed and not discarded in the environment, it becomes again a resource, increasing even more the savings in terms of CO2 emissions. It is not the material that is not sustainable but rather our behavior.
Plastic cannot be infinitely recycled
In comparison to glass and aluminum, plastic does have a smaller recycling opportunity, without debate. Nevertheless, they are different material with different properties and also different applications. This myth creates a false perception on the recycling opportunity of this precious and essential material. Would you a car made of glass instead of plastic?
Moreover, plastic is recyclable and does actually get recycled in durable good, designed to last for a long period of time. There is not the need to recycle them over and over. In addition, technological research and development is constantly improving the quality of recycled plastic to increase their application. Plastic is not infinitely recyclable yet but work on it is being done.
For all these myths, there are actual data contradicting them, trying to change an opinion based on inaccurate information or that do not tell the complete truth but only half.
In the end, even factual data do not complete the truth because data and statistics are important to support a material that still has a lot of value in our society, but the last move is made by every one of us through its behavior. Without awareness on all the points of view, a truthful and honest judgement cannot be made.