Plastic is everywhere so much so that humans are now vulnerably reliant on it. Decades of plastic use have contaminated our air, water, and soil. Plastics can take hundreds of years to decompose depending on the material. For instance, plastic bottles require approximately 450 years to decompose in a landfill.
Excessive use of plastics and lack of a proper waste plastic disposal system, causes huge garbage dumps, pollution in rivers and ocean, and is a threat for the ecosystems. According to studies, only 9% of plastic is recycled and 79% is dumped into the ocean.
Innovative tech solutions can help contain this plastic pollution: to replace some plastics with natural substitutes; reduce the demand for new plastics; disposal of plastic-based goods; and collection and disposal of plastic waste.
Use of Nanotechnology:
Cardboard, paper, etc can be used for packaging instead of plastics with the help of nanotechnology. For instance, coating cardboard with thin, water-resistant materials will prevent leaks or damage, is economical, and can be recycled. Another medium through which nanotechnology can benefit us is by creating metals like aluminum and steel that are light in weight and can replace plastic.
Innovators are even looking beyond wood-pulp cardboard boxes to more ecological materials, including edamame beans, cocoa beans, and waste hazelnuts.
Besides, nanotechnology is used for the production process of bioplastics, which is not limited to the composites but also offers new techniques for blending polymers which results in polymers with better mechanical properties.
Natural Substitutes to replace Plastic:
Finding natural substitutes to replace plastics is another way to curb plastic pollution. Genetic engineering, the process of using DNA technology to alter the genetic makeup of an organism, also helps in creating natural substitutes for plastics. Hemp, flax, and jute are a few natural fibers that are being used as substitutes for plastics with the help of genetic engineering. The bonding of jute fiber cellulose and soy resin protein has been utilized to produce a sturdy bio-composite, called jute-soy, which is also biodegradable.
Another important step to reduce plastic pollution is by creating biodegradable plastics. They decompose either under natural conditions or by processes like chemical hydrolysis, heat, photodegradation, or composting. Renewable biomass like starch, cellulose, protein, or fossil fuels is the source for creating biodegradable plastics. Over the years, we have been using the process of mechanical recycling in which the plastic is melted, sorted, and remolded into lower grade products; however, this process is limited as the properties of the plastic keeps degrading after every recycling. To avoid this degradation of properties implementing the process of chemical recycling will help to break the plastic immediately at a molecular level, which ensures the plastics are recycled into a material that is useful and can hold its properties, for example, burning polythene bags having material of polyolefins produces wax and useful fuels.
Using PLA (Polylactide):
PLA (Polylactide) is a biodegradable polymer extracted from sugarcane, corn, and sugar beets. This biodegradable polymer produces lactic acid which is mostly used in industries for packaging purposes. Polylactide is also used in industries such as electronics, textiles, biomedical applications, etc. Though the production cost of using PLA in industries is high, its use benefits to replace plastic and thus deplete plastic pollution.
Effectuating packaging of recyclable plastic:
The products in the market today generally use plastics that are difficult to recycle. However, this can be changed by using plastic made of HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene). Using this material for products like toothpaste tubes and others will help curb plastic pollution. HDPE though is not biodegradable, but can effectively be recycled many times.
Giving rewards in return for recycling plastic is one of the innovative ways through which the pollution of plastic can be reduced. Providing rewards through the medium of blockchain will motivate individuals to change their behavior and this, in turn, will help revolutionize the recycling system as it will create an impact to build an overall, circular and regenerative economy with minimal plastic pollution.
Government Policies and Support:
Government support and policies are vital to curbing plastic pollution. This support can take various forms. Concessional financing, aligning incentives to counteract the advantage enjoyed by the incumbent conventional plastics producers, imposing fines or taxes on their products, ensuring an effective plastic waste disposal system, etc., taking outright administrative measures, such as restricting or banning the use of conventional plastics and instead of giving preference to products made with plastic substitutes and biodegradable plastics.
The massive volume of non-biodegradable plastics, their overwhelming impacts on the environment and humans need to be controlled urgently. And these smart innovative solutions could revolutionize the burgeoning crisis.