Most advances in human society over the past century have been facilitated by the use of plastics. Plastics are composed of a network of molecular monomers bound together to form macromolecules of infinite use in human society. Today, according to the research of the Association of Plastic Manufacturers Europe (APME), there are more than 20 different major types of plastics in use worldwide.
Benefits to society
Plastics continue to benefit society in innumerable ways, although publically they have many hazardous effects too, in particular, concerning human health and the environment, endocrine-disrupting properties, and long-term pollution.
The benefits of plastics are particularly apparent in medicine and public health. Plastics are versatile, cost-effective, require less energy to produce than alternative materials like metal or glass, and can be manufactured to have many different properties. Due to these characteristics, polymers are used in diverse health applications, such as disposable syringes and intravenous bags, sterile packaging for medical instruments as well as in joint replacements, tissue engineering, etc.
Dangers to society
Do you think all current uses of plastics are prudent and sustainable? The answer is, of course not, because of the existence of widespread, unwanted human exposure to endocrine-disrupting bisphenol-A (BPA) and di-(2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), leading to large quantities of plastic being disposed of and depletion of non-renewable petroleum resources as a result of ever-increasing mass-production of plastic consumer articles.
Focus on the road ahead
What required in the society – is – to focus on continuing with the efforts to phase out DEHP and BPA in the healthcare and food industry, and look for biodegradable options at higher levels for plastic packaging, opportunities for reducing plastic medical waste, and recycling in medical facilities in the quest to reap a maximum of benefits from polymers without compromising human health or the environment in the process. The benefits and downsides of plastics and identify opportunities to change the composition and disposal practices of these invaluable polymers for a more sustainable future consumption need to be reviewed with scrutiny.
It is time to rethink the current management model of the production and disposal of plastics and to move towards a model that considers the entire life-cycle of these abundant, essential materials. Disposal of plastics in landfills ultimately is unsustainable and diminishes land resources fit for other uses of higher societal value.