The question we are asking has never been more important. Each year, up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean, and our continued production and use of harmful plastics shows no signs of ending this trend. Therefore, it is crucial to consider how we can incorporate other, more sustainable materials into our work and products so we can mitigate, and potentially reverse, the damaging impact that plastic pollution continues to have on our ecosystems.
How does plastic pollution impact ecosystems?
As awareness of the plastic pollution crisis grows, the disturbing images of its destruction are becoming more prevalent. We see pictures of turtles with plastic straws lodged up their noses, seals partially decapitated after being caught in discarded fishing nets, birds who have died with a stomach full of plastic, predators mistaking plastic bags for their prey – the list goes on.
Researchers estimate that at least 100 million marine animals die each year because of plastic pollution. The high number of aquatic deaths aren’t only contributing to the loss of animal populations, it is also driving extinction and complete ecosystems to destruction.
Why is plastic a problem?
Whether there is a viable alternative to plastic ultimately depends on the end products. We choose plastics to create packaging, products, prototypes, the list goes on. We use plastic because of its incredible durability and huge array of colours, textures, flexibilities, and strengths. The amount of different plastic we can create only adds to the spectacular amount of products we can design and bring to life, but at the cost of other lives.
The issue with continuing to use plastic is it contributes to the plastic crisis. Plastic doesn’t break down easily, and will remain unchanged on the planet for hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of years. As we continue to make more plastic, the volume of plastic waste will only grow unless we find alternatives. So what are they?
For 3D printing
3D printing is a revolutionary development in the world of prototype production and design. However, the processes often rely on standard plastics like ABS, PLA, and PET, all of which are harmful to the environment during production and disposal. So people are coming up with inventive alternatives that could help reduce your environmental impact:
- Coffee filament – Coffee grounds have become a way to reuse waste material as they are turned into printer filament. However, plastic is still involved. You still need to combine the coffee with a small amount of PLA to create the product.
- Hemp filament – When mixed into a PLA polymer base (PLA is already biodegradable), hemp creates an interesting filament. It is seen as a more environmentally friendly way to 3D print as it greatly reduces the amount of plastic required.
- Recycled wood – People also use this in combination with a PLA to create a natural-looking end product.
While we still need to combine these materials with a PLA base, they are much more environmentally friendly than pure plastic filaments due to the type of plastic base used. Manufacturers can create PLA from crops including corn, sugar cane, and sugar beet starch – renewable sources. PLA does have some limitations as it can degrade slowly adding to the plastic pollution crisis. When burnt, however, it does not produce toxic chemicals like other plastics giving a viable way to remove the plastic before it reaches our ecosystems.
Single-use plastics are the worst offenders in the crisis because of the high amount of waste they encourage. But, there are endless alternatives to single-use plastics that will likely become the priority. For example, bars and restaurants are substituting plastic straws for cardboard or reusable metal straws. Plastic plates and cutlery are no longer seen as the saving grace they once were. Instead we are going back to using plates and washing them, or when we are not at home using other sustainable disposable options like gourds or cardboard plates.
The plastic pollution crisis is growing. Fortunately, our awareness of the damage we are doing is also on the rise so we are making more and more alternatives to plastic. There is still a long way to go, many essential products we use are full of plastic, like our phones and laptops. But huge changes are underway to give us more sustainable options in everyday life.
If you’re looking for a knowledgeable company to help you bring your product design ideas to life in a sustainable way, Give us a call today on 01925 607 145.