Ethical Dilemmas of Plastics

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Ethical Dilemmas of Production, Consumption and Disposal of Plastics

The purpose of this paper is to bring to the center stage the numerous environmental problems that come along with the usage and disposal of plastic materials used in packaging, containing and shipping materials. Plastic, a non-corrosive, malleable, water proof, lightweight and mostly inexpensive is used to produce packaging materials in order to keep them protected from the elements and its surroundings during transit from point A to B. Though it lives up to its expectations of being able to protect pretty much anything, it also comes with titanic negative externalities. In this paper, I will shine some light on the negative impacts of plastic consumption in the goods industry and how we as global citizens can eradicate this problem while maintaining efficiency. Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3(7), e1700782.

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In the present day scenario, we humans have developed a high dependency for plastic based equipment and products. Due to its high reliability in terms of protecting goods from the elements, we find ourselves disposing more plastic than ever. Our dependency on plastic related items has increased significantly. Be it for packaging purposes or containing purposes. We have been using plastic for over 60 years now, creating 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic goods (Parker, 2017). Out of these 8.3 billion metric tons only 9% has been completely recycled, leaving behind 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste (Parker, 2017). Out of the total production, packaging constitutes to the highest level of waste generation, a whopping 40% of the total waste gets generated from packaging used only once. (Parker, 2018).

According to CNBC, between 5 million to 13 million metric tons of plastic waste generated from industrial packaging consumption ends up in the ocean every year (Ferris, 2017). Not only is this leading to global temperature change, dying marine life, melting glaciers, it is also leading to inefficiency and improper allocation of resources. Plastic though recyclable and reusable, does not get put back in to the system due to its lack of usability. Plastic wrapping for packaging etc. has no use in ones day to day life. Hence, it gets discarded after ones opened the package. This then finds its way all around the globe, namely in oceans and landfills.

We have to remember that Non-Biodegradable materials do not perish and mix with the environment. However, bio-degradable materials are those that over time perish to smaller particles and mix with the earth, not causing any harm to the environment whatsoever. Majority of manmade substances are not degradable in nature and either get incinerated or disposed into landfills or oceans. However, over due time with the aid of technological advancements, scientists have figured out a way to create a compostable plastic with a life span of around 180 days. Plastic, which takes around 400 years to decompose when exposed to the elements naturally is the root cause for numerous natural problems. With the introduction of this compostable plastic, our never ending need for a malleable, light weight substance that protects our goods from the nature will take a new turn. TIPA, an Israeli company has invented plastic packaging that ends life as an orange peel (Schuster, 2018).

The company claims and I quote, Not a single molecule will be added to the great Pacific Garbage Patch located between Hawaii and California. (Schuster, 2018) With technological advancements reaching such high peaks where sustainable development seems like not just a dream, it is not hard to say that the days of non-degradable plastic consumption is over. The plastic breaks down into water, carbon dioxide and organic matter that bacteria then degrade (Schuster, 2018). Schuster, R. (2018, June 14). TIPA produces fully bio-degradable packaging [Digital image].

Just like any other dependency, snapping away instantly from something one heavily relies on can cause chaos. Instead, if we take the slower approach, where we start using these compostable plastic materials, we can eventually reach a point where a need for the use of plastic would not exist. In this process, there are numerous benefits that we as a whole can reap. To begin with, the monetary value. Perishable items like such have lower costs simply because they do not last too long. Things that can only serve their purpose for a limited amount of time come at a cheaper cost and since this technology uses recycled materials and natural materials, the cost of production are also lower. Second, the amount of health benefits that come with this overshadow any other positive externality. It is widely known that a group chemicals called Phthalates, a set of chemicals essential in the process of softening plastics have grave effects on human and animal life. Not only do they pose as a threat to ones hormonal levels causing abnormalities, they also pose a threat as cancer generating toxins that accelerate the process of cancer cell generation. They say you are what you eat. The existence of process foods in our society relies heavily on plastic packaging.

With the depletion of plastic production in our society, these processed food companies will have to either switch to gentles chemicals used to process their food or it will simply start vanishing off the shelves. United States has an obesity problem which comes almost entirely from the consumption of processed foods. This further transforms into cardiac related problems due to the clogged arteries and strokes that come along with this unhealthy lifestyle. This breakthrough could help the nation fix this problem further creating a healthier nation. A healthier nation would mean millions of fresh, healthy minds working harder than ever to produce nothing but great results Finally, I am the generation who can say that the generations above us are depriving us of things like petroleum based fuels, scenic beauty, clean water to drink and fresh air to breathe. Due to the industrial revolution, the world ahead of us seems to be grey. With no glaciers to keep us cool, no trees to give us shade and no early morning breezes to wake us up. Stopping plastic use will not only ensure the beginning of revivals of all these essential natural resources, it will also ensure that the trash we throw out today does not stay with our children and maybe even there. As mentioned, plastic takes around 400 years to decompose, which means there are high possibilities that a chocolate wrapper thrown out today might still be in existence when my great, great grandchildren go out to play ball.

Industrial revolution and globalization sure have helped us develop as species and create better living standards for ourselves. However, with the rise of plastic and plastic consumption, what we do leave behind are incomprehensible ethical, environmental and socio political problems that we do not have to face. It is our forthcoming generation that will face the consequences of our actions. Industrial packaging constitutes to the most plastic disposal out of any industry. With the invention of decomposable plastic, we can now reduce our environmental impact by 100s of years. Not only are we rebuilding our earth, we are also helping us keep our money inside our pockets. The world has used plastic non-judiciously and disposed it shamelessly, it is time us as global citizens began taking care of our responsibilities. With the implementation of certain rules and regulations, we can together reap the benefits of non-toxic product consumption which will help us continue a sustainable future trend.

Plastic, though a highly artificial man made development starts its life with a culmination of naturally found substances like salt, crude, cellulose, natural gas and coal. All these are used as is except crude oil, which further needs to be processed. This is done to separate the heavy crude further into smaller, lighter components called fractions. Plastics can be made to match the users needs. It can be formed into two types of plastics; thermoplastics and thermosets. Thermoplastics are those plastics that soften up when heated and firm up back to form when cooled. On the contrary, thermosets are those plastics that never soften up once they have been molded. These fractions contain hydrocarbon chains based on the requirements. A hydrocarbon chain is simply a compound that forms when carbon and hydrogen are mixed. There a bunch of fractions used to make different hydrocarbon chains and one of those compounds is naphtha. The name might ring a bell from naphthalene balls used to keep urinals sanitary.

A highly volatile substance, naphthalene is reduced from coal tar. It is white in color when finally, ready to be used. Plastic can be then produced using either one of the two processes; polymerization or polycondensation. All these processes require the burning of fossil fuels, toxic fuels and other compounds that release harmful toxic gases into the atmosphere. Moving on from production and consumption to management and disposal. Waste management is a one of those problems that every nation strives hard to tackle. Some nations succeed and some fail miserably. This vastly depends on the resources available in hand. Countries with a higher national capital have more money to deploy or buy more resources. Be it spending money on extensive research and development or on the technology that will eventually implement all that research and development. China, the worlds largest population and one of the most successful technological country is so good at waste management, it had countries selling their garbage to China in order to recycle or discard it.

However, poorer countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan which have comparatively lower GDPs tend to give waste management a lower priority. Sometimes, no priority at all. Above is the data collected from 2010, showing how different parts of the world have various impacts on the world global mismanaged plastic disposal management. As I said above, poorer countries tend to not priorities sanitation and waste disposal due to lack of funds. However, smaller and poorer countries can do other things to promote an efficient way of managing waste. Austria for instance plans to ban plastic bags by the year 2020 (Kristi, 2018).

This should help them cut down 7000 metric tons of waste in plastic materials from the world. Also, they plan to ban the use of plastic materials in cosmetics in order to achieve the same (Kristi, 2018). Another example is that of a South African company based out of Cape Town called AirWater. The company began a Zero Plastic, Zero Harm campaign around 12 years ago. Not too long ago, the companys founder and CEO, Ray De Vries announced that the company was switching from plastic to a completely compostable packaging made out of sugarcane fiber and a polylactic acid (Kristi, 2018).

According to the CEO, the packaging is put in a compost should disappear within half a year. He also stated that instead of harming the soil, the bottles would add nutrients to it. Which if you think about is a huge leap ahead. Barren lands can be brought back to life by disposing water bottles. The company also claims that when burnt, the compound should not emit any toxic gases and cam be used as a safe burning fuel if needed. Now days, business have realized the need for them to suffice their corporate social responsibilities (CSR). Corporate social responsibilities are gestures and actions a company does for the well-being of the society. This is done to support the peaceful existence of powerful business owners and the common man. Dominos took an initiative to fix any pothole if reported. This was done in order to ensure the safe delivery of pizzas but also created a good will for Dominos for fixing public problems with personal funds. (BA 364, class note). Similarly, the beer making giant, Corona has started an initiative to promote green packaging (Arthur, 2018).

The aim is to begin producing and using six pack rings made entirely out of biodegradable materials. The company has gotten the ball rolling on prototypes in its native country, Mexico. Corona says they aim to test out in Mexico first and then move to the United Kingdom for the home stretch of their testing (Arthur, 2018). This is yet another example of a company satisfying its social responsibilities. The company says that Mexicos beaches are elemental to the companys DNA and want to work harder to preserve it. Also, they understand their presence on the global stage and aim to standardize the use of these six pack rings.

Executive Summary

In this paper, I brought to center stage the ethical dilemmas that come with the production, consumption and disposal of plastic. How plastic promotes the creation of processed foods which lead to obesity and how the entire life cycle of plastics poses a threat to us humans. Be it exposing us to cancer causing toxins, toxic gases or harmful emissions. The aim of this paper is to shine light on existing problems like the accelerated rapid growth in production of a compound that takes 100s of years to decompose and replace it with greener options. Greener options like biodegradable plastics or eco-friendly plastics that have a shorter life span, less than a year. I understand that it will not be easy to implement this idea entirely but somewhere the ball needs to get rolling. Mahatma Gandhi once said, Be the change you want to see in the world. Keeping that in mind, I believe the industrial fraternity should follow the lead of companies like AirWater and Corona which are trying to change their own ways to help the earth recover as much as it can. Only 19.5% of the worlds waste got recycled in 2015, the rest simply burnt or discarded.

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Ethical Dilemmas Of Plastics. (2019, May 15). Retrieved December 2, 2022 , from

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