Plastic — it is nearly everywhere, and chances are you own, use and interact with plastic products every single day. From the plastic case on your phone to the water bottles you drink out of, this is a material that does not seem to be going out of production any time soon – or so we think.
Recently there has been quite a bit of media coverage on plastics and their harm to the environment, eco-systems and us. For one, it can take 500 – 1000 years for plastic to degrade. This has extreme implications, especially considering Americans alone throw away approximately 185 pounds of plastic on average every year. So where does all this plastic go? Some reuse it, others recycle it, some foundations and organizations collect it and create recycled products out of it, but most of us just throw it away.
The solution? Use goods or materials that can do the job of plastic without the consequences and waste.
Sure, it’s a little – okay, much — heavier than a plastic container, but glass can be washed and reused.
Glass containers can be placed in microwaves and ovens without melting and keep your food hot longer than plastic. It does not leach any potentially harmful chemicals into your food or drink either, which plastic containers can over time or when heated.
2. Reusable Shopping Bags
It is estimated that 500 billion plastic shopping bags are used worldwide every year, which is a lot of potential waste and pollution. By considering a reusable shopping bag, you can reduce this waste. Think about the last time you went to the grocery store and left with five or more plastic bags and maybe even double-bagged some heavier items or opted to get your meat in a separate bag. What did you do with the plastic bags after you brought your groceries home and put them away?
The reusable bags are usually made from recycled materials, which have already made an impact on the reuse of plastics. They also hold much more groceries than a regular bag and are way more durable. You can even purchase thermo-insulated bags or bags with dividers in them!
3. Milk Protein
This may seem strange but bear with me! The concept is to convert casein (a protein found in milk) into a biodegradable “plastic” for use in furniture, insulation, packaging and more. This is not a new idea at all and has been around since the 1880’s but was much too brittle to be used then. Now, scientists have come up with a solution to increase the stiffness and quality of the plastic by freezing sodium montmorillonite into aerogel and adding it to the casein. This is not a mainstream product just yet but could potentially be beneficial once and if largely manufactured.
4. Chicken Feathers
Something we may not often think about is where do all those chicken feathers go once we have eaten our chicken fingers or had a big chicken dinner? They are disposed of, lost and forgotten — but no longer!
Chicken feathers contain keratin, which is a protein that can be used to create a durable, biodegradable plastic. This keratin is pretty strong and makes for useful and environmentally friendly products. Who would have thought chickens could taste so good and be so resourceful — all whilst being environmentally cautious?
5. Starch-Based Polymers
While it is not feasible to create a stable, durable product from starch alone, adding starch into other polyesters such as PLA and PCL can be beneficial regarding environmental implications, manufacturing costs and can even reduce the degrading time of the material. Which in turn means the plastic will break down quicker in landfills than plastics without starch. This isn’t foolproof yet or entirely environmentally friendly but is surely making a small and impactful difference in plastic production.
6. Liquid Wood
Liquid wood? How? Why? Liquid wood is a bioplastic, or “fake plastic” which looks and acts just like the real deal. The difference is that bioplastic is biodegradable and created from pulp-based lignin — which doubles as a renewable resource. So far there have been a variety of products made from liquid wood including toys and t-shirts. Liquid wood can also be recycled and reused.
7. Reusable Water Bottles/Beverage Containers
Do you go out to the grocery store and buy large packages of bottled water, Gatorade bottles or other bottled or canned beverages? Not only are you throwing a lot of money down the drain but you are incredibly harmful to the environment.
Consider purchasing a few reusable water or beverage containers (you can find inexpensive ones at a dollar store) and using tap water or buying your refreshments in large cartons (recyclable) and re-filling your beverage containers as you go. You will save money on the drinks you buy and help the environment one bottle at a time!
It will be some time before we see the fall of traditional plastic and the rise of new, alternatives to plastics, which are healthier for us and cleaner for the environment, however, we do know that these products exist and are feasible regarding production and distribution.
Any waste is harmful, but we can slowly take steps at home and within our manufacturing to ensure we are as clean and resourceful as possible. What steps will you take? What methods do you think are the most beneficial?