The Role of Waste Management In Tackling the Environmental Impacts of Plastic
When in 1907, the first synthetic plastic was developed by the Belgian-American scientist Leo Baekeland developed Bakelite, the future or environmental impacts of the product could never have been anticipated or expected.
Today, plastic makes up parts of just about everything, from grocery packaging materials to parts of clothes, carpet fibers, home equipment, household utensils, bottles, etc. Inevitably, like many other products and items, plastic ends up in the environment, constituting waste with the potential to cause very deleterious damages to wildlife and the ecosystem. Plastic today may be considered a global crisis.
In this article, we take a look at plastic, its effect on the environment, and how proper waste disposal, junk removal, recycling, and management can help
Originating from the word “pliable,” plastic was instantly marketed as the product of a thousand uses. It could become anything, could be shaped into whatever you wanted. The possibilities of plastic were endless. It was on its way to becoming one of the most successful inventions of the 20th century.
By the end of World War II in 1945, the number of innovations and inventions with plastic was staggering, from nylon that the U.S military rationed for use in parachutes to polyethylene used in radar cable insulation and polystyrene for use in thermal insulators and shock absorbers.
There are two major classes of plastic. The thermoplastic, which can be melted for reformation, is used popularly in product packaging, and the thermoset plastic, which cannot be reshaped after the initial molding and is used popularly for parts in the automobile industry because it’s durable and stable.
However, regardless of the success of plastic, it’s also a very disposable material that loses its reuse value very quickly. Mass production of plastic began only a bit over six decades ago, and yet, by 2015, just over a century after the invention of the first synthetic plastic, the world had produced over 8.6 billion tons of plastic, 6.3 billion of which ended up as waste.
Of this plastic waste, only 9% make it to recycling. 12% is incinerated, and the remaining 79% end up as junk in landfills or the soil, or even in the ocean, constituting a hazard to the environment and wildlife. It’s important to note that with America producing more than 34 million tons of plastic waste annually, more than half of all plastic waste has been generated only in the past two decades.
We use plastic products such as water bottles, coffee cups, straws, and plastic bags that we use singly and then dispose of rather than recycle. Can you imagine how many plastic straws and cups you’ve used in your lifetime? If you think about this, you’ll probably come to terms with the potential effect of plastic globally. And yet, we are still in a ‘Take, Make Waste’ economic model.
It’s important that companies; from big corps to small ventures and entrepreneurs and people generally play their part in reducing plastic usage and encouraging recycling. While many people and corporations are working towards sustainability and practicing proper waste disposal, the world is simply not doing enough or quickly enough to implement the required changes to remediate plastic pollution.
What’s The Human and Animal Cost of Plastic Pollution?
As stated earlier, people and businesses, especially companies that produce and use plastic, have a social responsibility to effect necessary changes for environmental sustainability.
Not only does plastic fill up the environment, but there’s also a negative health impact on humans and wildlife. The production of plastic involves burning a combination of toxic materials that may cause respiratory diseases such as asthma, heart diseases, skin irritation, and damage to several organs and the nervous system.
Most plastic products are non-biodegradable or take over 400 years to degrade. And even so, they only become less visible forms of plastics known as microplastics. This means that the straw you used last night could become millions of pieces of microplastic in a few centuries from now.
And these microplastic easily get into the body and organs of humans and animals, as well as every part of the environment, from drinking water to the ocean, and soil. Already, there’s research that posits that we ingest 11 particles of microplastics every hour.
It’s also important to consider the effect of plastic waste on the health and well-being of people in the waste handling industry. There are significant impacts on the health of people that provide garbage removal services and recycling pickup services, especially in developing countries.
In 2019, a study revealed that several hundreds of thousands of waste produced in the US are shipped to poor, developing countries, which has an adverse effect on the health of the people in these countries.
In 2019 alone, 68,000 plastic recycling containers made their way to developing countries such as Bangladesh, Senegal, Ethiopia, and Laos, with poor environmental regulation and cheap intensive labor. These countries have become so overwhelmed with waste from the western world that they can no longer handle the amount of plastic waste. China, which recycled half of U.S. plastic waste at some point, also stopped this in 2017. All these leave so much plastic waste in the US, which produces more waste than other developed countries and recycles the least.
How to make necessary changes
As already evident, it’s unsustainable to rely on other countries to handle the waste produced. It’s also impossible to rely on just waste removal services, bulky waste pickup or basic cleanup efforts, and minimal recycling to control the extreme amounts of plastic in the environment. It’s important to reform every part of the waste production and generation process, from design, production, infrastructure, and standardization to distribution, usage, recycling, reuse, and waste management.
Circular economy is one viable way to tackle the growing challenge of plastic waste and pollution in today’s world. If the ideals and tenets of circular economy are adopted, not only the environment stands to benefit, but also the economy, health, and biodiversity.
To do this, we must implement forward-thinking designs in waste production and management, find sustainable ways to keep plastic products in use, and contribute significantly to environmental protection and restoration.
Designing Out Waste
To reduce plastic waste in the environment, it’s important to design smartly and with intent before producing. This means considering the plastic disposal before finalizing the product design, designing to promote multiple, repetitive usage rather than single-use, designing with modularity, effectiveness, and accessibility even if you have to do this over profit and aesthetics.
It is also important to minimize (if not possible to entirely stop) the production and use of plastic polymers that cannot be recycled or reused. Designing smart and intentionally also helps the product last longer.
According to Duku, a company that works extensively with plastic and rubber products, there are a few factors to consider when designing a new product. They include:
- Recyclability and Reusability
- Is there an alternative to plastic?
- Does design make the product possible to repair without complete replacement?
- Is product materials ethically sourced?
- What does this product end up eventually?
- What is the product modularity?
- Is it possible to improve the product design?
- What does the consumer need?
Check out Duku’s ten tips for designing here. Designing with these factors in mind will ultimately help reduce plastic pollution in the environment while encouraging recycling and reuse, ethically sourced products, simplicity in design, and overall, sustainability.
Keep the Products in Use
If businesses buy into the ideas of a circular economy and reduce production, the business’ value chain will increase. However, to do this requires a massive investment in systemic change in order to reach the reduction targets for their value chain. Companies need to produce bio-based products which benefit the environment. They can offer refillable and reusable packaging as well as recyclable packages.
Thermoplastics are sustainable materials for plastic since they can be heated and reformed for other uses. These practices make it easy to control the plastic waste that ends up in the environment. It’s important to ensure that products can be kept in use rather than disposing and filling up landfills and oceans.
Protecting and Restoring The Environment
It’s virtually impossible not to have heard the terms “reuse,” “reduce,” and “recycle.” It’s everywhere, from kid’s TV shows to news channels, billboards, etc. They are great pieces of advice, but as they say, “actions are louder than words.” It’s important to put these into practice so that consciousness becomes evident in everyday living.
To protect and restore the environment, there have to be a lot of infrastructural and systemic changes with new business and economical models designed with the environment in mind. While infrastructural changes will be cost-intensive to put in place, the long-term benefits to the economy, the environment, and wellbeing will be immense.
Companies can manufacture products that are more functional and of better quality, eliminating quick, one-time-use packages that constitute waste. Standardized products also contribute to a more cost-effective supply chain when you consider the reuse value of the product.
These can also help reduce plastic pollution that we currently deal with by overwhelming landfills, trash removal and waste disposal, and waste incineration. Businesses can help protect and restore the environment if they work together, integrate systems, share information, and act.
Plastic Waste Handling and Disposal
With the tens of millions of plastic waste generated annually in the US alone, businesses need to contribute to waste handling and disposal infrastructure and process, from collection to transportation, sorting, and recycling.
This contribution to waste handling begins in product design, where consideration of the end of life of the product is done. Companies can provide recycling services such that consumers can return the package or product after use for recycling. Some plastic bottling companies already do this, and it helps reduce plastic waste.
It’s also important for end consumers to dispose properly and use reliable handling facilities such as Dimension, which work with recycling plants to ensure proper management and recycling.
Sorting plastic can be complex as there are different types of plastic, and not all are biodegradable or recyclable. Even some biobased plastics may not be biodegradable, depending on the product design and structure of the material. If the structure is similar to petroleum-based plastics, they may last just as long as non-biodegradable plastic.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, compostable plastic should be composted in the home even if the waste was produced at home. It has to be done in a commercial facility with the required provisions for composting plastic, such as temperature and breakdown conditions.
This points to the several complexities of plastic waste even in the recycling process. So when it comes to sustainable waste removal, waste disposal, and management of plastic materials and products, it is best to leave it to professional waste handlers and recycling programs.
Dimension is one such company that ensures proper, environmentally friendly, and affordable waste removal, ensuring that every waste item ends up in the right recycling program or facility.
If you need furniture disposal services, used mattress removal services, or general waste disposal services, including plastic, contact us today. We make sure your waste is handled responsibly. We also offer the most affordable prices for waste disposal in Greater Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, and San Francisco.
With the amount of plastic in our environment, it’s important to reuse, reduce, repurpose, dispose responsibly, and recycle. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, if we start taking action now, by 2040, there’ll be:
- 80% reduction in plastic in the ocean
- 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emission
- 700,000 additional jobs
- $200 billion saved annually
Therefore, it’s important to start taking action now for the future. It’ll help the environment, the health and well being of people and wildlife, and the economy.
At Dimension, we are committed to reducing the waste in the environment. We handle residential and commercial waste disposal and management responsibly at affordable prices. Give us a call today.