Where Do Plastics Really Go?

A few weeks ago, I went grocery shopping to Save-On and I noticed the abundance of plastic wrapped items there was. This made me wonder where our plastic goes when we’re done using it and why we see large amounts of landfills throughout the world. Curious, I decided to research it!

Aaron “tango” Tang, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Since 1991, China has been accepting plastics from nearly half of the world’s plastic trash where it was turned into new products for sale. In January 2018, China stopped accepting half of the world’s plastic waste to reduce pollution in its country. Since China’s ban on plastics, Malaysia has been an important importer of plastics all over the world especially for many developed nations such as Canada. However, there are mountains of plastics unable to be recycled or destroyed! A recent estimate by the University of Georgia shows that it is estimated that over 111 million tonnes of plastic will have no place to go by 2030.

Now you may be wondering why plastics don’t biodegrade. Many plastics such as a ketchup bottle contain a chemical known as propylene. If it is heated up, monomers of the propylene link form strong carbon-carbon bonds with each other, resulting in a long chain of monomers known as polypropylene, which make it unbreakable.

In the meantime, there are two potential solutions to this dilemma.

  • Currently, there are two types of biodegradable plastics available on the market, petroleum-based oxo-biodegradable plastic and plant-based hydro-biodegradable plastic. Other biodegradable plastics include polylactic acid, which has the ability to decompose into water and carbon dioxide within the span of 47 to 90 days in a commercial composting center with extremely high temperatures.
  • We, the people, can choose items made with non-plastic items. In the U.K., many small-store and large-store managers (such as Morrisons and Thorton’s Budgens) have begun to eliminate plastic from their stores and have promoted customers to bring their own reusable containers for meat products and reusable bags for produce. To further eliminate plastics, we can talk to major and minor grocery stores and discuss the issues of the degradation of plastics. Knowledge is the key to success!

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