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Chemistry, Sciences, Sustainability

We need to change how we use and recycle plastics to achieve sustainability

Plastics are everywhere. For decades they’ve been cheap and disposable. But plastics are made mostly from crude oil. So between the impacts of the oil and the impacts of the waste plastics, particularly incinerating these wastes, release huge amounts of carbon dioxide. This makes plastic a huge issue for climate change.

But, you might ask, what about recycling? Can’t we recycle plastics and reduce their impacts? Current recycling practices are just not enough to change the outcomes.

Bachmann and colleagues (2023) found that there are three main requirements to bring plastic use within the boundaries of the planet. First, we need to improve recycling practices to the point where we can effectively recycle 75% of plastics. Europe currently recycles 15% of plastics. To do this we need new recycling technology and potentially limitations on the types of plastics that are used to ensure they can be recycled.

But that only gets us three quarters of the way there, is there a way to do the rest? There has been a lot of work on creating plastics out of different materials. The researchers propose that this is where we’ll make up that difference, making plastics out of carbon that has been captured through carbon capture and making plastics out of biomass.

There’s still a problem though. This doesn’t account for the continual increases in plastic use. We can’t deal with more plastics even with such an enormous jump in recycling technology. So, no matter what we need to also reduce our use of plastic.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


One thought on “We need to change how we use and recycle plastics to achieve sustainability

  1. After we started diligently composting ALL of our organics, and recycling the obvious stuff, it is really amazing how much plastic remains. Film mostly. We do our best to reuse as much as we can. Still a lot that gets tossed.


    Posted by omarhopkins | March 19, 2023, 8:49 am

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