By Radhika Chaudhary
We live in a world of plastic- a painful truth we can no longer deny. They are everywhere, from the clothes we wear, to the cars we drive, and the buildings we live in. Over a century ago, Leo Baekeland, in 1907, made the first commercially successful plastic.
What started as a dream invention quickly morphed into an idyllic nightmare. Today, plastic disposal is a highly visible global problem. Every year, the world produces approximately 400 million tonnes of plastic, of which only 9% is recycled.
The COVID-19 pandemic only further hampered efforts to reduce plastic pollution. The disposal of medical products, including discarded PPE kits, gloves, masks, and sanitizer dispensers, among others, became a “pandemic of plastic pollution.” Scientists and climate activists issue severe warnings about the status of the oceans, where millions of tonnes of plastic are wreaking havoc.
As a result, for as long as plastic has existed, it has been demonised as the main source of pollution. While its durability is a double-edged sword, we cannot simply continue the conversation based on an idyllic assumption that plastic needs to be completely abolished. An unsustainable material, the world needs to re-evaluate its relationship with plastic by learning to use, and reuse, plastic waste in a sustainable way.
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The true issue in hand is not plastic as a material but rather our linear economic system, in which goods are produced, utilised, and discarded rapidly, whereas in circular economy, we focus on maximising resource efficiency.
However, these solutions will not emerge organically. It is only through scientific study, developing businesses and effective systems for handling plastic trash, and aggressively pursuing uses for the material, that actual effort can be made towards the same.
There are numerous ways to give plastics a new lease on life. This includes converting recycled plastics into a tough, durable, and sustainable building material. The construction industry, for instance, offers great potential for the utilisation of plastic waste.
Alternatively, it can be put in use in ways that absolve its carbon emission. In various economies, plastic dominates the consumption of raw materials. Plywood is a common consumable in the building industry, which contributes to increased deforestation. Plastic is the best material to use in locations where metals might start to rust and corrode due to their great corrosion resistance. About half of the carbon utilised in their production is captured by them. Compared to other building materials, it uses less heat or power.
Plastic can also be utilised as a substitute for Medium Density Fiberboards (MDFs) and roofing sheets in all commercial, residential, industrial, and outdoor applications. These plastic boards have an aesthetic appeal and can be used with laminates, making it difficult to distinguish between plywood and plastic.
Thus, plastic has all the key properties for use as a construction material. It is lightweight, has high impact resistance, and can be molded into various shapes. But, most importantly, it can be recycled.
It is obvious that plastic waste has the potential to replace and supplement traditional building materials in a sustainable way. It helps reduce the environmental impact of the construction industry’s carbon footprint in addition to addressing the dual problem of managing plastic waste.
While there is a long road ahead before the commercial implementation of the idea can be fully realised, recycling and reusing plastic is the key to a sustainable future.
(The author is Co-Founder and CFO of Ricron Panels Pvt Ltd. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)