The pollution due to plastic is a known phenomenon for everyone and is the worst type of pollution known to mankind. Let us learn more about it so that we can make a change before it is too late (which we think is not far). Let us learn about the types of plastic and how they cause harm. Plastic can be categorized into 7 types:
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE or Polyester)
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
- Polypropylene (PP)
- Polystyrene (PS)
Each of these is different from the other, some are easily recyclable while others produce hazardous material after several uses. Excess of plastic usage in any field and improper waste management are the main reasons of pollution, but does it really stop there?
PET is mostly used for food and drink packaging purposes due to its strong ability to prevent oxygen from getting in and spoiling the product inside. It contains antimony trioxide which is considered carcinogenic. Hence storage of anything in such type of plastic for a long time is dangerous. It is also most likely to be picked for recycling.
HDPE has very long virtually unbranched polymer chains which makes them dense, and hence stronger and thicker than PET. It is commonly used as juice containers, shampoo bottles, medicine bottles, etc. It is recyclable and relatively more stable than PET. Although a study shows that it produces estrogen-mimicking additives that can enter our body and disrupt our hormones when exposed to UV light.
PVC is commonly used in toys, pipes, detergent bottles, blood bags, etc. The manufacture and disposal process of PVC has been declared as to cause serious health risks and environmental pollution issues. PVC is considered as most hazardous and can leach out chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), lead, mercury, etc. and these chemicals are carcinogenic. PVC is also rarely accepted for recycling and its best if avoided.
LDPE has the simplest plastic polymer chemical structure which makes it very cheap to process. They are a thinner and more flexible form of polyethylene. It is used to make grocery bags, plastic wraps, coatings for milk cartons, some squeezable bottles, container lids, etc. Even though it’s safer to store food and drinks in such type of plastic, it could cause unhealthy hormonal effects in humans and is difficult to recycle.
PP is stiffer and more resistant to heat. It is used in thermal vests, car parts, a part in disposable diapers and sanitary pads, etc. PP is not as recyclable and could cause asthma and hormone disruption in humans.
PS is commonly known as Styrofoam and used for food containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, packaging, etc. The PS can leach out styrene which is considered as brain and nervous system toxicant when exposed to hot and oily foods. PS can also affect the lungs, genes, liver, and immune system. Along with all the risks mentioned PS has a low recycling rate.
Other plastics include plastics that may be layered or mixed such as bioplastics. Polycarbonate (PC) is the most common plastic that belongs to this class. PC is also known as Lexan, Makrolon, and Makroclear. This is widely used to make baby bottles, sippy cups, water bottles, ketchup containers, dental sealants, etc. several countries have banned PC due to its toxicity. PC contains BPA which causes chromosome damage in females ovaries, decreased sperm production in males, impaired brain and neurological functions, obesity, increased risk of breast cancer, metabolic disorders, etc. It has a very low recycling rate and should be strongly avoided.
We now know quite enough about the plastic we use every day and we hope that understanding these facts will result in minimum usage of plastic. It should be avoided as far as possible to mindlessly use plastics as any kind of it can be hazardous. Type 1,2 and 5 are considered safer to use in unavoidable circumstances. It is our call to make and open our eyes to stand against the usage of plastic and find better alternatives like cloth bags, aluminium/glass/steel bottles, wooden/edible spoons.