Plastics Use Poses Lifelong Consequences
Human evolution inspired by need, scientific curiosity and serendipity has partially been defined by tools and materials used by man. In the wake of the contemporary technological advancement, human civilization has seen gradual shifts from conventional stone and metal use into the extensive use of plastics.
Vast petroleum deposits have rendered plastic products very affordable and flexible to tailor into the desired consumer characteristics. Plastics are lightweight and cheap; attributes that make them the ideal materials for commercialization. They have been finding an ever soaring use in flexible and rigid packaging, construction services, medical consumables production, electronics and automobile among other numerous uses.
Globally, the demand for plastics is upsurging with an estimated 263 million tons in 2016 and a colossal net worth approximated at $ 560 billion by revenue in 2024. This is definitely the plastic age.
Polyethene is by far the most used plastic in the current times, with over 100 million metric tons used in 2018. Abbreviated as (PE), it is the major constituent material in containers, bottles, plastic films and plastic bags. PE will play a lead role of 35% revenue share by 2025 in the flourishing packaging industry. The global trajectory of a sharp increase in urbanization, world population, industrialization and infrastructure, especially in emerging economies, is the pull factor for the phenomenal growth in plastic sector.
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On the flip side, plastics have existential threat to life. They degrade very slowly meaning they persist in the environment for several decades. Their low density makes them buoyant. Coupled with long durability, they travel long distances, finding paths into the oceans and rivers. They are also potential vectors for microbes and non-native species.
Consequently, they weather into micro-sized particles that together with manufactured minute-sized plastics in consumer products find their way into the food chain. More so, plastic products have additives that are released through photo oxidative, biological and mechanical degradation that can be carcinogenic and mutagenic.
These accruing detrimental effects have resulted to clarion calls for sound plastic waste management. Birds are finally home to roost.In response, the market pressure is building up on tighter environmental regulations and increased consumer expectations. Top minds in the plastic industry are gearing up for a circular economy (recover – innovate – reuse), ditching linear approach of single use (take – make – dispose).
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Plastics sustainability has a mixture of demand, supply, regulatory and technological dimensions. As market leaders and authorities like Kenya Climate Innovation Center are investing in recycling alternatives such as eco bricks and eco-friendly alternatives like biodegradable plastics, regulators are getting to the extremes of bans on single use plastics. In pursuit of a healthy, better and productive society, Kenya has put an effective ban on single use plastics days after a similar ban on plastic carrier bags.
By Arnold Muthanga