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PLASTIC POLLUTION





 


 


 




 
 
 
 
A plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids that are moldable. Plastics are typically organic polymers of high molecular mass, but they often contain other substances. 
They are usually synthetic, most commonly derived from petrochemicals, but many are partially natural. Almost invariably, organic polymers mainly comprise plastics. The vast majority of these polymers are based on chains of carbon atoms alone or with oxygen, sulfur, or nitrogen as well. The backbone is that part of the chain on the main "path" linking a large number of repeat units together. To customize the properties of a plastic, different molecular groups "hang" from the backbone (usually they are "hung" as part of the monomers before linking monomers together to form the polymer chain). The structure of these "side chains" influence the properties of the polymer. This fine tuning of the properties of the polymer by repeating unit's molecular structure has allowed plastics to become an indispensable part of twenty first-century world. Most plastics contain other organic or inorganic compounds blended in. The amount of additives ranges from zero percentage for polymers used to wrap foods to more than 50% for certain electronic applications. The average content of additives is 20% by weight of the polymer. Filers improve performance and/or reduce production costs. Stabilizing additives include fire retardants to lower the flammability of the material. Many plastics contain fillers, relatively inert and inexpensive materials that make the product cheaper by weight. Typically fillers are mineral in origin, e.g., chalk. Some fillers are more chemically active and are called reinforcing agents. Since many organic polymers are too rigid for particular applications, they are blended with plasticizers, oily compounds that confer improved rheology. Colourants are of course common additives, although their weight contribution is small. Many of the controversies associated with plastics are associated with the additives.TOXICITYDue to their insolubility in water and relative chemical inertness, pure plastics generally have low toxicity. Some plastic products contain a variety of additives, some of which can be toxic. For example, plasticizers like adipates and phthalates are often added to brittle plastics like polyvinyl chloride to make them pliable enough for use in food packaging, toys, and many other items. Traces of these compounds can leach out of the product. Owing to concerns over the effects of such leachates, the European Union has restricted the use of DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate) and other phthalates in some applications. Some compounds leaching from polystyrene food containers have been proposed to interfere with hormone functions and are suspected human carcinogens. Whereas the finished plastic may be non-toxic, the monomers used in the manufacture of the parent polymers may be toxic. In some cases, small amounts of those chemicals can remain trapped in the product unless suitable processing is employed. For example, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has recognized that vinyl chloride, the precursor to PVC, as a human carcinogen. BPA CONTROVERSYSome polymers may also decompose into the monomers or other toxic substances when heated. In 2011, it was reported that "almost all plastic products" sampled released chemicals with estrogenic activity, although the researchers identified plastics which did not leach chemicals with estrogenic activity. The primary building block of polycarbonates, bisphenol A (BPA), is an estrogen-like endocrine disruptor that may leach into food. Research in Environmental Health Perspectives finds that BPA leached from the lining of tin cans, dental sealants and polycarbonate bottles can increase body weight of lab animals' offspring. A more recent animal study suggests that even low-level exposure to BPA results in insulin resistance, which can lead to inflammation and heart disease. As of January 2010, the LA Times newspaper reports that the United States FDA is spending $30 million to investigate indications of BPA being linked to cancer. Bis(2-ethylhexyl) adipate, present in plastic wrap based on PVC, is also of concern, as are the volatile organic compounds present in new car smell.The European Union has a permanent ban on the use of phthalates in toys. In 2009, the United States government banned certain types of phthalates commonly used in plastic. ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUESPlastics are durable and degrade very slowly; the chemical bonds that make plastic so durable make it equally resistant to natural processes of degradation. Since the 1950s, one billion tons of plastic have been discarded and may persist for hundreds or even thousands of years. Perhaps the biggest environmental threat from plastic comes from nurdles, which are the raw material from which all plastics are made. They are tiny pre-plastic pellets that kill large numbers of fish and birds that mistake them for food. Prior to the ban on the use of CFCs in extrusion of polystyrene (and general use, except in life-critical fire suppression systems; see Montreal Protocol), the production of polystyrene contributed to the depletion of the ozone layer; however, non-CFCs are currently used in the extrusion process.RECYCLINGThermoplastics can be remelted and reused, and thermoset plastics can be ground up and used as filler, although the purity of the material tends to degrade with each reuse cycle. There are methods by which plastics can be broken back down to a feedstock state.The greatest challenge to the recycling of plastics is the difficulty of automating the sorting of plastic wastes, making it labor intensive. Typically, workers sort the plastic by looking at the resin identification code, although common containers like soda bottles can be sorted from memory. Typically, the caps for PETE bottles are made from a different kind of plastic which is not recyclable, which presents additional problems to the automated sorting process. Other recyclable materials such as metals are easier to process mechanically. However, new processes of mechanical sorting are being developed to increase capacity and efficiency of plastic recycling.While containers are usually made from a single type and color of plastic, making them relatively easy to be sorted, a consumer product like a cellular phone may have many small parts consisting of over a dozen different types and colors of plastics. In such cases, the resources it would take to separate the plastics far exceed their value and the item is discarded. However, developments are taking place in the field of active disassembly, which may result in more consumer product components being re-used or recycled. Recycling certain types of plastics can be unprofitable, as well. For example, polystyrene is rarely recycled because it is usually not cost effective. These unrecycled wastes are typically disposed of in landfills, incinerated or used to produce electricity at waste-to-energy plants..............






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