Category : Environment
Author : Ayesha Syed
Since the 1950s, over 9 billion tons of plastic have been produced globally. The production has increased over the years because the popularity has grown with the passage of time. However, this massive production of plastic has led to massive dumps as well. Over 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste have been generated and only 9% have been recycled. The rest of the plastic waste ends up being dumped in landfills or even as litter in the environment. I don’t have to paint a picture of local gutters being stuffed full of plastic bags.

Plastic When Belgian chemist, Leo Baekeland, made the first fully synthetic plastic – Bakelite, in 1907 he would have never guesstimated the wide impact it could have in our lives and on the environment. A material which was made to improve and ease the quality of life has turned into a health hazard, causing various issues. Plastic is a term used for a wide range of synthetic and semi-synthetic materials that use polymers as a main ingredient. The property that sets plastic apart from all the other synthetic materials is its ability to be moulded into any shape and form. It is designed to be durable, lightweight, and it fights degradation over a long period of time. Plastic has the unique characteristic to avoid breaking down naturally in the environment. It survives for hundreds of years. What was seen as a perfect and cheap material for daily usage has managed to raise eyebrows and quite a lot of frowns because of its stubborn nature. The polymer has led to concerns about plastic waste and its visible impact on the environment. Some of these impacts are known and a lot of them are still unknown.
Impacts of Plastic and Plastic Waste on the Environment Plastic inherently is not bad. It is one of the cheapest materials out there. If you scan your immediate space you will be able to find at least five things made out of plastic. The durability and availability has made plastic one of the most sought after materials. However, this endless loop of using plastic and not being able to get rid of it, because of its durability, has led to plastic piles as big as mountains. As it is non-biodegradable and cannot be disposed of, plastic waste gradually started causing more harm to the environment than good. Since the 1950s, over 9 billion tons of plastic have been produced globally. The production has increased over the years because the popularity has grown with the passage of time. However, this massive production of plastic has led to massive dumps as well. Over 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste have been generated and only 9% have been recycled. The rest of the plastic waste ends up being dumped in landfills or even as litter in the environment. I don’t have to paint a picture of local gutters being stuffed full of plastic bags. Plastic decomposition is an extremely long process. According to some estimates, plastic bottles take approximately 450 years to break down. The situation of plastic bags is even worse, they take about 1000 years or more to decompose. The plastic waste gradually transforms into microplastics (plastic particles less than 5mm in size). These particles spread in the environment including oceans, rivers and are present even in the air that we breathe. Some traces of microplastics have also been found in the food chains and even in human bodies. When it comes to plastic in the oceans, the situation is no different than what it is like on the land, if not worse. Plastic waste causes harm to marine life. YouTube is filled with videos of sea lions, turtles, sting rays, etc. stuck or entangled in plastic waste. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, by 2050 it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, by weight. The Ganges in India and the Yangtze in China serve as doorways for plastic waste to reach the oceans. These rivers are heavily polluted with Plastic and as a result, contribute to the global plastic pollution issues. These statistics point towards an eminently major issue that the world is currently facing. Plastic and plastic waste are a threat to the environment, wildlife, and human health. To combat that scientists are trying to find solutions day in and day out. Let them do their part, but we should do our part as well because we owe it to the environment.
Alternatives to Plastic As humans realised the threat plastic was causing to the environment, scientists started finding alternatives. Here are some of them:
1. Biodegradable Plastic or Bioplastics These types of plastics are acquired from renewable sources that are easily biodegradable in the environment, hence the name. Corn starch, sugarcane, or cellulose are some of the examples which are used as the primary material to make these types of plastics. These can be entirely bio-based – made from renewable sources, or biodegradable – materials which are capable of breaking down completely. Bio-based plastics are chemically similar to traditional non-biodegradable plastics. They can be used for similar purposes to traditional plastic. Biodegradable plastics, on the other hand, are made in a way that makes them completely break down naturally under specific conditions viz. heat, light, or moisture. Both of these types of plastics are way better than traditional plastic and are a great way of reducing carbon footprints.
2. Paper Paper and cardboard are broadly used in the form of packaging materials, cups, plates, etc. They are a great alternative for single use plastics. These materials are renewable and more biodegradable than plastics. However, the production of these materials can still be a cause of concern for the environment. The production of paper on large scales causes deforestation. Another issue they pose is the durability factor. Paper and cardboard-made products are less durable than plastics and they can easily be destroyed. Despite that, they are still way better than plastic and should be used instead of single-use plastic.
3. Glass Glass is another widely used material and it is almost as popular as plastics. It is primarily made up of silica (silicon dioxide) and can be recycled and reused many times as it does not lose its quality for a long period of time. Glass is extremely versatile and can be moulded into various forms. Glass bottles and jars can also be reused for many years as they can be easily washed and reused. However, glass does come with its own sets of drawbacks. Glass and glass products are heavy and fragile. The heaviness of the product increases the transportation costs and the fragility makes them susceptible to breaking.
4. Metal Just like glass, metal is also a great alternative to plastics. Metal is more durable than glass as it is not fragile. It is known for its durability and strength. Metal products are known for having a long lifespan which reduces the need for frequent replacements. Some metals, like Aluminium and tin, can provide an effective barrier against heat, light and moisture which makes them great for packaging where protection and preservation is needed. Despite having great properties metal also has several drawbacks. Metal products are usually heavy, which makes them extremely durable, but raise transportation costs.
5. Plant-based materials Bamboo, Hemp and Bagasse (sugarcane waste) are being explored as possible alternatives to plastics. These come from renewable sources such as crops, trees, or agricultural residues. Moreover, these materials can be grown and harvested repeatedly. These plant-based materials are being used for a wide variety of purposes which include, packaging, utensils, personal care items, etc. Ongoing research and innovations are focusing on finding more plant-based materials and how they can be used in ways that are more sustainable.
6. Beeswax Wrap Plastic zip-lock bags and plastic cling wraps are often used for food storage. They are in a way single-use plastics because they get trashed after usage. Beeswax wraps are considered a great alternative for storing and preserving food items. They are made by coating a fabric, usually cotton, with a mixture of beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree raisin. A great thing about Beeswax Wraps is their ability to be reused which makes them ecofriendly. Beeswax naturally has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which keeps the food safe. However, these wraps are not convenient to wrap all food items. They are best suited to cover bowls, fruits and vegetables, and other similar food items. Once they are of no use, they are often compostable as they are usually made from natural materials.
7. Mycelium It is the root-like network of fibres that forms the vegetative parts of fungi. It is getting a lot of attention as a possible alternative to plastics. It is fully biodegradable and compostable and can be grown rapidly. Mycelium can be shaped into a lot of different structures. It can be made into packaging materials, trays, and even furniture and construction materials. Currently, a lot of research is being done on Mycelium and Mycelium based products. At the moment, the cost of products made out of Mycelium is higher than conventional plastic. However, with new research and advancement in production, the cost is expected to decrease.
8. Silicon Silicon is not used as a direct replacement for plastic products. However, it has some properties that make it suitable for specific plastic alternatives. Silicon is heat resistant which makes it a great material for products such as cooking utensils, baking utensils, etc. It is also an extremely flexible and elastic material and similar to certain plastics. Silicon is also extremely durable and can withstand rough treatment and repeated usage. However, Silicon is not degradable and can remain in the environment for a really long time. But its durability allows less replacement which in turn requires less production as well.
These alternatives come with their own set of drawbacks, but they are not as bad as conventional plastic. Where some are not costeffective and some lack durability, there is no one particular alternative that has all the flexibility that plastic has. Despite knowing the drawbacks, if we can start making small changes in our homes, together we may be able to save the world from impending destruction.


1. World Economic Forum. (2016). More Plastic than Fish in the Ocean by 2050: Report Offers Blueprint for Change. Retrieved from more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-ocean-by-2050- report-offers-blueprint-for-change/

2. Li, W. C., Tse, H. F., & Fok, L. (2016). Plastic waste in the marine environment: A review of sources, occurrence and effects. Science of the Total Environment, 566–567, 333-349. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.05.084

3. HowStuffWorks. (2021). How Long Does it Take for Plastics to Biodegrade? Retrieved from

1 Comment

  1. Fahmi

    Can I get this author’s details -of Ayesha Said?


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