You probably have a difficult time imagining a world without plastics and everyday life would certainly be very different without them.
Pre-reading: The picture below is of the WEEE man. He is 7 meters tall and weighs 3.3 tonnes. He is constructed from the average amount of electrical and electronic products that one person throws away in their lifetime.
Can you identify some of the products? How many of these products contain plastic, do you think? Can you guess what WEEE is an acronym for?
In Everyday Life
The first man-made plastic was made in the middle of the 19th century and called Parkesine, but it is only in the last fifty years that the use of plastics has exploded. Their extensive use today has many positive aspects, but also far-reaching negative ones.
Plastic has many advantages.
- It is light-weight and therefore has low transportation costs.
- A car containing a large amount of plastic will weigh less and use less fuel.
- The volume of plastic waste is less than other materials that it can replace.
- The plastic industry is big and employs many people.
- It is relatively inexpensive to produce plastic and it can be adapted to the specific needs of the customer by using different additives.
- It is durable and has excellent insulation properties.
Pollution by plastic waste is a growing problem and is the biggest disadvantage of using plastic. Plastic is non-degradable and can therefore exist for a long time in a landfill. Plastic objects discarded in the environment cause problems for wildlife and pollute our countryside and seas. Although plastic can be recycled, Waste Online UK estimates that only 7% of the total plastic waste in the UK is currently being recycled. The different types of plastic have to be separated before recycling, which increases the costs.
In addition, the additives, which are added to plastics to give them the properties that the customer desires, can be harmful to the environment.
Modbury is a small town in the south-west of England which became famous world-wide in May 2007. All the traders in the town stopped supplying plastic bags and sold reusable biodegradable bags instead. In this way, they could contribute to reducing the amount of plastic waste. Modbury bans plastic bags
The BBC Natural History Unit made a film, Message in the Waves, which deals with Hawai'i and environmental problems. It shows some of the effects of pollution by plastic waste. This film so affected a local woman in Glastonbury, in Somerset, that she organized a group of people to do something about plastic bag pollution. Cotton shopping bags have now been produced for sale , Glastonbury goes plastic bag free (BBC News, 16 February 2008). Here in Norway, a Kragerø bank with the cooperation of a local artist, who was also influenced by the film, has produced reusable bags of sail cloth decorated by the artist. (From the newspaper, Varden, 31 October 2008)
Are the following statements True (T) or False (F)? Correct the ones which are False.
- Cars with a lot of plastic parts use more fuel.
- Many people work in the plastic industry.
- A plastic can be changed to suit the customer.
- Plastic breaks down easily.
- All types of plastic can be recycled together.
- The shopkeepers in Modbury do not sell plastic bags to their customers.
- In Glastonbury, cotton shopping bags are sold as an alternative to plastic bags.
Solution1. F. Cars with a lot of plastic parts use less fuel.
4. F.Plastic is non-degradable and lasts for a long time in a landfill.
5. F. The different types of plastic have to be separated before recycling.
Key to pre-reading
- Products include washing machines, microwaves, computer equipment, vacuum cleaners, TVs and mobile phones.
- WEEE stands for Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment
Make a Table
Can you think of any other advantages and disadvantages of plastics? Make a table with two columns showing all the advantages and disadvantages of plastic.
In groups of 4 – 6 discuss the use of plastic. Half of the group is for the use of plastic and the other half would like to limit the use of plastic as much as possible. Prepare your arguments before you start the discussion.