Plastic pollution shows no signs of slowing down. It’s time to adopt bioplastics, especially those made from hemp, for a sustainable lifestyle.
in 2020, Researchers led by Antonio Ragusa From the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Rome, plastic particles were found in the placentas of four women who had given birth naturally.
The particles were colored red, pink, blue and orange, indicating that they had originated from the packaging.
It was called the first case of Plastics or plastics in the uterus.
No word in the dictionary is strong enough to express the anxiety we should be feeling.
What led to the popularity of plastic?
Our love affair with plastic is very recent and dates back only seven decades,
World War II was one of the most important moments in modern history. Not only did it shape global politics over the next few decades, it also provided a significant impetus to scientific progress.
Nuclear power, jet aircraft, computers, and plastics were born out of the same historical event.
Plastics of some sort (there are hundreds of categories) has been around since the turn of the 20th century. But mesh and nylon, two synthetic products made of polymers, gained prominence during the war for their usefulness and affordability.
After the war, the use of plastic continued to increase. the The massive popularity of Tupperware was the first indication that the plastic age had finally arrived.
Polymers are large molecules (from 10,000 to 100,000 atoms) Which are naturally found in wool and shellac. Synthetic polymers are the basis of plastic materials. These are derived from hydrocarbons as a byproduct of petroleum refining.
The plastic was cheap and could be shaped into any shape. Moreover, it is water resistant and can be easily dyed – an ideal synthetic material if any.
Concerns arise about the use of plastic
The honeymoon did not last long.
DuPont has done its best by innovating Motto “Better things for a better life…through chemistry”.
But all the marketing in the world could not turn the view into one clear fact – plastic did not disappear when it was discarded.
The durability of the plastic also proved to be a curse. The effects of plastic pollution were soon noticeable.
By the late 1970s, landfills were overflowing with discarded plastic rubbish. What used to be made of metal – trash cans to steering wheels – was increasingly made of synthetic polymers.
The effects of plastic on our lives and our planet
Plastic stays forever
8.3 billion metric tons have been manufactured since 1950. Not a single gram has gone away. Wherever they are manufactured, the larger particles are still present.
Bacteria cannot digest the strong bonds in hydrocarbons. Hence, it does not degrade.
The only way plastic degrades is through prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays.
The sun is a weak source of UV rays (the atmosphere blocks much of it). This is why a plastic bottle can take between 500-1000 years to decompose. Nobody knows for sure because it has been around for less than a century, which is a fraction of the time required.
Plastic pollution of the oceans
It is estimated that there are 86 million tons of plastic waste in the seas and oceans.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers an area of 1.6 million square kilometres. This is much bigger than South Africa! A little bigger and it would be the size of Mexico.
There are two ways in which plastics make their way into the sea. The first is by river run-off and the second is during transport to less developed countries for disposal.
Projections indicate that by 2050 there may be more plastic than fish in the sea.
The curse of microplastics
The term was coined in 2004 by Professor Richard Thompson, a marine biologist. Refers to pieces of plastic particles with a diameter of less than 5 mm.
It is estimated that there are between 15 and 50 trillion pieces of microplastics in our environment. Microplastics pollution is scary because it ends up in our tissues and cells.
How are microplastics formed? Where did they come from?
The primary source is the beads found in various types of cosmetic gels and creams.
A secondary source is the weathering of large plastic pieces. While plastic does not degrade easily, the combined effect of the sun, wind, and temperature causes it to break down.
After several decades, the size was no larger than the grain.
The danger arises when microplastics enter the food chain. Fine plastic particles have been found It has settled in the digestive tract of 114 species of aquatic animals.
There is no doubt that those who follow a seafood diet have a small percentage of microplastics in their bodies.
Apart from the fish, it was found in tap water, which is a grim scenario indeed.
What are the long-term side effects? No one knows for sure except that stories like Plasticenta will become popular over time.
Bioplastics – the material of the future
Cyborg children, the term used by Dr. Antonio Ragusa In his account of describing newborns with plastic splinters in their bodies, his spine was chilling.
But hope floats.
If you read the above carefully, you will remember that polymers can be natural as well as synthetic.
The problem is not with polymers, but with synthetic polymers. Fleece is a polymer as well as silk.
Bioplastics are made from cellulose, a polysaccharide (a type of carbohydrate that humans cannot digest).
Do you know the most abundant source of cellulose? Hemp plant stalk.
Hemp has long been known as a wonder crop. It was used to make ropes and textiles until it was phased out in the late 19th century.
In the past decade, cannabis has made a huge comeback. Every year new uses for hemp are pursued – from hemp fashion to hemp plastic.
If bioplastics are the way out of this mess we’re in, hemp will be a major contributor.
Hemp is robust and can be grown on almost any soil with little investment. It needs half the water and less pesticides when compared to cotton.
Advantages of hemp bioplastic
In my opinion, at least, this is the biggest advantage.
I don’t want to drown in a sea of plastic. It’s not an exaggeration. With the amount of packing material we throw away each year, you can roll the ground multiple times.
One square meter of plastic is used to wrap each mobile phone.
Hemp plastic degrades very quickly. Laboratory tests have shown that it disappears in less than a year.
This is really positive news. Imagine you dump your plastic waste in a landfill and find nothing left after two summers.
BPA or bisphenol A is a toxic substance. It was first discovered in the 1890s, but no use was found for it until the advent of plastic.
A small amount of BPA, a colorless and odorless substance, can make plastics more flexible. This makes it ideal for food packaging and containers.
You can now find it in computer printers and contact lenses.
BPA messes with the endocrine system. It can change the way hormones are produced. Since hormones are our body’s chemical messengers and control everything from hunger to blood pressure and sugar, they shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Hemp plastic is completely free of toxins such as BPA.
Hemp is a plant that can be grown almost anywhere, even in a dry climate.
The crop requires little care and resources. It is easy to harvest and process. Converting hemp cellulose into bioplastics has a minimal carbon footprint.
Hemp can be grown three times as often as cotton.
Since hemp is very environmentally friendly, major fashion houses have shown interest in using it as a fabric.
Renewable energy is the way forward from energy to packaging. We can no longer rely on the use of fossil fuels and their by-products. A little more than a century ago, cars ushered in the era of gasoline and oil exploration. It’s time to put an end to that and move to better technologies that don’t harm the environment more.
Cellulose is an important component of cell walls. It is a polysaccharide. Cellulose is used in the manufacture of paper and cellophane. The latter can be an ideal alternative to the plastic used for packaging. Hemp bioplastic packaging will remove millions of tons of trash from the planet.
Composite plastic hemp
The new substance may not be just hemp. The easiest way is to combine hemp and synthetic plastic together. Such an approach will take less time and research to bear fruit.
We cannot replace all plastic with hemp in the short term. Not enough planted. During the decade it takes to transform agricultural practices, a composite plastic containing 20-40% of hemp inputs would be an ideal alternative.
The path to a sustainable future
What is the drawback?
High cost deterrent.
Synthetic plastic pellets are priced at $1 a pound. The cost of hemp is $2.35.
This is the rate of 2.35X and companies are not ready to make the change at the moment.
The higher costs will come down as research discovers more affordable ways to produce bioplastics from hemp.
You have to remember that serious research in this field is no more than a decade old. Hemp bioplastic manufacturers are busy searching for the silver bullet.
The Tesla example is worth remembering. One man and his wise zeal seem ready to spoil the 120-year-old internal combustion engine.
It’s about time the same thing happened with hemp plastic. I’m pretty sure that given the severity of the problem, human ingenuity will come up with a great solution sooner rather than later.