The Production of Mass Plastics
The mass use of plastic started in the 1950s and has grown constantly since then. Today more than 250 million tons of plastic are produced annually. Whereas in Europe the production of plastic has remained relatively constant over the last decade, in the developing countries in particular it has increased continuously. In the last 20 years worldwide demand has risen constantly by a figure of 5% annually.
Plastics have many practical Qualities
The popularity of plastic can be explained not only by its low production costs but also by its numerous practical qualities such as low weight, resistance to acid, and flexibility. Plastic packaging keeps food fresh and allows water to be transported across great distances. Its use in transporting goods means savings in CO2. In addition with their flexible qualities plastics encourage technological innovations and – particularly in the areas of medicine, building services, aircraft and automobiles – lead to new solutions.
One Third consists of Packaging Material
However, the enormous consumption of plastic also presents numerous problems. Over one third of the plastic produced is packaging material that quickly ends up as garbage. As standard plastic is not biodegradable, plastic rubbish that is not properly disposed off pollutes our environment for decades or up to centuries. Today mountains of plastic are already heaped up in our garbage tips and in nature. As consumption increases there is an urgent need for far-sighted and holistic approaches to solutions.
Mass Plastics made from Petroleum
Plastics consist of long molecular chains, known as polymers, created by linking the same repeated building element (monomer). The chemical compounds are very stable and not degradable. This material, although often only used for a short time, is, in fact, produced to last for eternity.
Synthetically produced plastics are made from mineral oil, coal or natural gas. A total of 4% of the worldwide production of oil and gas is used in the manufacture of plastics. As a large proportion of the plastic used ends up in a garbage incineration plant, this ultimately means a waste of non-renewable resources.
Plastics have many practical qualities. But if used thoughtlessly and in large amounts they can also have negative consequences for our environment. As the material can be produced cheaply this encourages excessive consumption at the point where, in fact, the amount should really be reduced.