Talking about plastic is not necessarily talking about pollution. Although in recent years there has been an intense campaign against this material, the truth is that in many cases these criticisms are unjustified. Plastic per se is not a polluting material. It is the bad management of the waste, the lack of initiatives for its recycling and the improper or uncontrolled use of this material.
No one doubts that this is not a contaminating material. Any of the materials we encounter on a daily basis, from an old piece of clothing to a can of soda, is when it doesn’t end up in the right place.
Hundreds of tons of waste of different origin and nature are produced every day in the world. Except in very specific cases, the problem of pollution is not in the garbage we generate but in what we do or what we can do to prevent it from becoming a problem.
The presence of plastic in our everyday life should not be conceived as a problem. This material, in any of its variants, has been closely linked to the economic and industrial development of the last two centuries.
With the appearance of plastic, new alternatives for storing and transporting all kinds of substances appeared, and with them the emergence of countless industries that today would not be what they are if plastic containers and instruments had not crossed their path. It is enough to point out, for example, that according to FAO data, the use of plastic allows that in Europe the food that is lost barely amounts to 3%. In countries where the use of plastic containers is not so developed, this percentage can reach up to 40%.
In spite of the insistence of many sectors on the consequences of the use of plastic materials in the food industry, the fact is that thanks to these packaging products, greater use is made of the contents and not only in this sector.
Another of the most common criticisms of plastic is its potential to pollute. But did you know that the use of insulating plastics in the building industry can save up to 250 times the energy used in the manufacture of this product?
The same applies to plastic used in irrigation systems in agriculture, in plastic parts applied to the automotive and aeronautics sectors or those used in the medical field. In this sense it can be said that plastic is a highly efficient material, saves lives and provides undeniable energy savings.
What’s the real problem with pollution? Poor waste management. Plastic cannot be blamed for being polluting. The responsibility for a plastic article ending up in the wrong place is unique to people. These materials can be recycled in most cases to be reused and, when this is not possible, they can be used to generate energy because they have a high calorific potential.
European regulations point to the gradual disappearance of plastic as a manufacturing material, but is it really a solution to the problem of pollution? Not at all. As long as there is no environmental awareness and interest in recycling, those pollution problems attributed today to the use of plastic tomorrow will fall on any other type of material.
According to a study carried out by the University of Georgia in 2015, Spain is the second country in the European Union in which more plastic is recycled at home. And yet there is still a long way to go in terms of awareness and good practices. However, in 80% of cases, the fact that the world’s oceans are invaded by plastic is a problem that originates there, in what citizens are accustomed to doing with the plastic containers they no longer use.
Banning single-use plastic or packaging articles will not solve a contamination problem which, as has been demonstrated, is not in the material itself but in the management of the material. On the other hand, promoting a recycling policy that is much simpler and more accessible to the citizen, improving the network of containers for the collection of these materials and investing in technology for much more efficient reuse would help significantly improve the situation.
Today, plastic is an easily manufactured material in which Europe invests barely 5% of the oil and gas it consumes. It is also a versatile solution that is used in countless sectors: construction, the pharmaceutical industry, the automotive industry, food, hygiene, agriculture, safety… Its durability and resistance make its useful life extraordinary and that, with proper waste management, can be used beyond what it was originally designed for. The real problem is the lack of public awareness of recycling. But in the same way that people are the problem, we are also the solution.
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