In this day and age, who doesn't use plastic? Society and plastic have an inextricable relationship. More than 100 years, man-made petroleum-based plastics have changed from materials that were originally considered "magic" to destroying the environment.
After several decades, governments in various countries began to ban the use of polymer plastic bags. As a substitute, people are encouraged to switch to environmentally friendly plastics.
Eco-friendly plastics are plastics made from nature-based materials such as corn flour, wheat flour, and other organic materials. Eco-friendly plastics are biodegradable and become compostable soil when dumped on the ground.
Even though it is considered a positive innovation, the environmentally friendly plastic recycling process also requires a process that everyone needs to understand. For more details, let's study the review below!
Initially, plastics from polymer materials were made in the 1950s. Since then, the world has produced more than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic.
Conventional plastic manufacture is designed so that it is not easily damaged. Therefore, most conventional plastics remain in the environment for decades.
A 2017 study estimated that 79% of plastic waste still exists in landfills or the environment. Meanwhile, 12% has been burned and only 9% is recycled.
By 2050, it is estimated that plastic waste will more than double to 756 million metric tons per year. However, all of these predictions can be prevented if humans switch to environmentally friendly plastics.
Innovation in the traditional petrochemical plastics industry, the green plastics market reached $3.27 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow 9.4% by 2027.
The use of environmentally friendly plastics is also fully supported by the government and laws that limit the production of conventional plastics. In addition, people are slowly starting to shift to more sustainable packaging.
By definition, environmentally friendly plastics are engineered polymers designed to be biodegradable or easy to recycle. In general, there are three categories of environmentally friendly plastics, namely bioplastics, biodegradable plastics, and recycled plastics.
Bioplastic is a type of polymer plastic made with renewable resources and is able to decompose naturally.
Bio-based plastics or bioplastics are made from plants such as starchy materials derived from potatoes or corn. Then, corn starch was added PLA (polylactic acid), PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoic), as well as innovative new materials such as Notpla, a solution made from seaweed.
PLA material made from corn starch is highly favored by plastic packaging manufacturers. The reason is, when compared to conventional plastics, bioplastics reduce 70% of carbon emissions when processed in the landfill. In addition, bio-based plastics are 30% more energy efficient when produced. Thus, packaging manufacturers can save money.
Next, the category of environmentally friendly plastic is biodegradable plastic. This type of environmentally friendly plastic is made partially or completely from non-renewable petroleum. Biodegradable plastic is added to a mixture of chemicals that cause it to decompose faster when exposed to light, oxygen, humidity, or heat.
The main ingredients added in biodegradable plastics are polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) and polybutylene succinate (PBS). Both materials are petroleum-based which are often used for product packaging, coatings for paper cups, and films. In general, biodegradable plastics are seen as environmentally friendly plastics.
Meanwhile, the third category is recycled plastic. A kind of environmentally friendly plastic made from a mixture of recycled petroleum-based plastic percentages.
For example, PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles are recycled into rPET bottles. Or, recycle bags from former shopping bags made of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) into deck boards or park benches.
Generally, recycled plastic products are still considered conventional plastics or are not environmentally friendly plastics. Because, it is still difficult to biodegrade. However, recycled plastic is considered to have a positive impact on reducing plastic waste.
Although it can be recycled, the process of recycling plastic waste is quite complicated. In fact, it requires special facilities that are usually owned by developed countries with modern technology.
Meanwhile, ordinary people still do not understand the rules and the correct way of recycling. This is because most environmentally friendly plastics require special methods and cannot be recycled using the same methods as conventional plastics.
Bioplastics and biodegradable plastics are designed to replace traditional plastics. However, because of the almost the same shape, it is difficult to distinguish which plastic is conventional and which is plastic that is environmentally friendly.
If mixed during the recycling process, PLA (bioplastic)-based plastic bottles will become contaminants for traditional polymer bottles. This is because plant-based materials (bioplastics) weaken the chemical structure of the polymer. In addition, it can reduce the overall selling value of plastic bottles.
Meanwhile, if not sent to the landfill, bioplastics and biodegradable plastics are transferred to chemical recycling plants, or industrial composting centers.
Handling environmentally friendly plastic waste requires special infrastructure and facilities which are quite expensive. Therefore, it is very important that people begin to understand how to distinguish between conventional plastic waste and environmentally friendly plastic.
The government can work with private institutions or waste banks throughout Indonesia to deal with the problem of plastic waste .