Plastics in future - Refuse or Reuse?

What comes to your mind when you hear the word "plastic"? Is it a massive garbage mountain, an environment with plastics bottles and cans everywhere or, is it a nice clean environment? When it comes to plastics, latter is rarely the case. Anyhow, plastic has engaged in our lives in such a way that we cannot imagine a world without it. We use plastics in our daily lives in different forms, starting from the morning cup of tea to last minute before sleep. With these circumstances, annual worldwide plastic consumption has increased exponentially. It is predicted that annual plastic consumption of world will exceed 350 million tons by 2050. This is something to be taken seriously, as individuals who are responsible for this situation either intentionally or unknowingly.
Plastic pollution is a serious issue
Before taking measures to solve this problem, we need to have a better understanding of what are plastics and what properties make them so useful in our daily lives, compared with other materials. Plastic is a polymer, which is made out of simple molecules like ethylene, vinyl chloride or nylon. It is very lightweight and durable. They do not conduct electricity or heat, making them very useful as insulators.

With the above-mentioned properties and low cost, it paved the way for plastics to become more consumable. We have to keep reminding that the wastage increases linearly with the increase of consumption of plastics. Even though Sri Lanka is a small island, it is predicted that we produce a substantial amount of plastic waste annually. It is stated that Sri Lanka is the fifth among the countries, who dump most plastics into the ocean (see PS). This is something to be considered gravely, as we are a tiny island, surrounded by a beautiful coast.
Sri Lanka ranks high in Plastic Pollution of Oceans

Somehow, this matter has opened eyes of administration in Sri Lanka to some extent. Sri Lankan government has taken steps to avoid plastic waste by abandoning them or by refusing the use of them. In 2017, the government announced an act on plastics, declaring the prohibition of all forms of plastic (polyethylene or polypropylene) products as decoration in political, social, religious, national, cultural or any other event or occasion. Also, with the national environmental act, No. 47 of 1980, the manufacture of food wrappers from polythene was prohibited in the same year. The actual problem is whether we can survive without plastics. According to the ministry of higher education, the literacy of Sri Lanka is about 92%. With that much of literacy, we should be able to find a more sustaining answer like reusing or recycling, rather than refusing altogether.

There are many examples of reusing plastics for different purposes, from all around the world. One of the very recent examples is from Maharashtra state of India, where they used plastic waste (combined with asphalt) to construct roads. It was found that this improves road durability and reduces soil pollution. For this, they use plastic bags and pouches, bin linings, household goods, bottles, and bottle caps.
Combining plastic with asphalt for paving roads
In household-scale, we can make pen holders, spoon hangers, flower pots from discarded plastic bottles and other plastic containers. This will reduce household waste, as well as saving your money!
Plastic bottles reused as flowering pots
Recycling is a much harder process than reusing. But the world has cutting edge technologies, which can be used for easy recycling of plastics. If we can recycle at least half of the plastic waste we produce annually, it can lead the path to multiple innovations, as well as being a great saving for the country in terms of labor cost, transportation and health. The USA has found that there is an 80%-90% energy reduction when producing recycled plastics, rather producing plastics from virgin materials. There are many consumer goods which can be made from recycled plastics such as shoes, clothes, phone covers, jackets, etc. Even some leading companies like Adidas and Nike produce shoes and bags made from recycled plastics, giving a better precedent for others to follow.

You will spend a maximum of 5-10 minutes with a mineral water bottle. But this water bottle will spend years and years in the environment without degrading. So is it fair to the environment to deal with a stranger who is not helpful at all? Even though plastic waste is a huge problem, we can't get rid of them altogether. Recycling and reusing plastics as much as possible will be a more reliable solution for this problem, as well as taking us to a better world with new thoughts and inventions.

This article was sent in by Waruni Kulathunga. She is a demonstrator at Department of Chemistry, University of Peradeniya, and has a BSc (special) degree in Chemistry. You can reach her by Email

PS - The statistics on this article has been disputed. You can read that article written by Susiri Costa here.

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