It’s estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an additional 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste in the form of disposable face coverings. This, combined with the eight million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans each year pre-pandemic, means that there may be more plastic pieces in our oceans than there is wildlife by 2050. Here, Samir Jaber, technical content writer at materials database Matmatch, warns of the growing risks associated with ocean-bound plastic and advises businesses on how to reduce plastic waste.
While we’re all familiar with the sights of plastic bottles and food packaging washing up on our shores, microplastics can often go unnoticed in our oceans. These are debris broken from larger pieces of plastic, measuring less than 5 mm. However, “going unnoticed” does not imply that they’re any less damaging than their larger counterparts.
Because of their size, wildlife can easily consume microplastics. In cases where said wildlife is consumed by humans, these microplastics can enter our bodies and bring along carcinogenic properties, thus raising the risk of cancer. Some studies also suggest that microplastics can inhibit our lungs’ ability to repair damage caused by conditions such as COVID-19.
While it’s unrealistic to think that we will switch completely from plastic to alternatives in the short-term, materials such as recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) could help reduce the amount of plastic in circulation. PET is the most common type of plastic resin, constituting the majority of plastic containers. It can also be found as a fibre in clothing, blankets and sleeping bags. PET is also a highly recyclable plastic since it can be easily melted and reformed into new products.
Encouraging the recycling of plastics at home will help give used PET products a new life. However, consumers only account for a relatively small amount of plastic waste — businesses are actually the biggest producers. The Guardian reported that just 20 businesses produce 55 per cent of the world’s plastic waste.
Statistics like this show how essential it is that businesses favour recycled materials like rPET over virgin plastics where possible. One company, Lavergne, whose recycled resins are available on the Matmatch database, offers a range of polymer blends that can be used as alternatives to PET and other plastics.
Some companies fear using rPET due to a perceived notion that they are not robust or malleable enough for their specific requirements. In reality, rPET can be recycled up to approximately four times before showing any wear, proving that they are equally as robust as PET. To make more informed decisions, companies with specific material requirements can consult Matmatch’s online materials database. Here, you can input your specific requirements to be matched with an appropriate material supplier.
With eight million tonnes of plastic in the ocean, businesses must look for alternative materials when creating plastic products. The time for keeping our head in the sand is over — companies must decrease plastic usage now, so we don’t live in a world where plastics outnumber wildlife.
Also featured in Industrial News UK.