Chemistry » Organic Molecules » Plastics And Polymers

# Impact of Polymers and Plastics

## Impact of polymers and plastics

### Fact:

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a large area of waste that has collected in the central North Pacific Ocean. It is estimated to cover at least $$\text{700 000}$$ $$\text{km^{2}}$$.

### Plastics and the environment

Although plastics have had a huge impact globally, there is also an environmental price that has to be paid for their use. The following are just some of the ways in which plastics can cause damage to the environment.

1. Waste disposal

Plastics are not easily broken down by micro-organisms and therefore most are not easily biodegradeable. This leads to waste disposal problems.

2. Air pollution

When plastics burn, they can produce toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen chloride (particularly from PVC and other plastics that contain chlorine or nitrogen).

3. Recycling

It is difficult to recycle plastics because each type of plastic has different properties and so different recycling methods may be needed for each plastic. Some plastics can be remelted and re-used, while others can be ground up and used as a filler. One of the problems with recycling plastics is that they have to be sorted according to plastic type. A list of some of the different types and their identification codes are given in the table below. Alternatively, plastics should be re-used. In many countries, shoppers must now pay for plastic bags. This encourages people to collect and re-use the bags they already have.

 PIC Plastic type Properties Uses Recycling polyethyleneterephthalate very clearhigh strengthbarrier to gasbarrier to moisture water bottlespeanut butter jarsmouthwash bottles can recyclemost places high-densitypolyethylene very stiffhigh strengthbarrier to moistureallows gas through yoghurt tubsdetergent bottlescereal box liners can recyclemost places polyvinylchloride can be blended easilyhigh strengthvery toughness detergent bottlesmedical equipmentpiping very rarelyrecycled low-densitypolyethylene very flexiblehigh strengthbarrier to moisture clothingsqueeze bottlesbread bags not oftenrecycled polypropylene high strengthresistance to heatbarrier to moisture syrup bottlesplastic capsstraws fairly easyto recycle polystyrene many usesvery clearis easily formed egg cartonsdisposable cupstake-away boxes fairly easyto recycle other dependent oncombination ofpolymers large containerssunglassescomputer cases often notrecycled

Table: The plastic identification code (PIC), type, properties and uses of various commonly used plastics.

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