Biodegradable Plastics Article Paper Sample

Production of Plastics Nowadays

Biodegradable plastics are beneficial to the society in a number of ways. Despite the potential environmental concerns, biodegradable plastics have been mostly improving the health and pharmaceutical industry alongside with other industries, such as automobiles, machinery, electronics, computers, telecommunications, packaging, food and clothing industries. However, many regulations and concerns are affecting the plastics industry nowadays. The mass production of plastics in the recent years and the increasing uses of it by the public have raised a global environmental concern about the health of public and the environment. Different solutions exist that can improve the reduction of emissions, which result from plastics in the medical industry.

In the review, issues such as how to reduce the wastes of plastics and how to increase the use of biodegradable plastics by different industries are discussed. In addition, current article seeks to provide a comprehensive process about how biodegradable plastics are made and how exactly they contribute to degrading the environment. Equally important, the article will address some of the most probable solutions that can be used to resolve the issues facing the plastics industry.

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Introduction

The word “plastics” is a wide term that is used to refer to distinguishable polymers having high molecular weight. The polymers can easily be degraded through various processes. Nevertheless, with regards to their big number in the natural environment, as well as their specificity, biodegradation by microorganisms alongside with enzymes has emerged as one of the most effective approaches. In some cases, the word “bio-plastics” has been used in a confusing way. However, it should be used to infer to biodegradable or bio-based plastics. Most importantly, biodegradable plastics are perceived as promising solutions to environmental pollution because they are friendly to natural surroundings (Chen, Guo-Qiang & Martin 2084). Furthermore, they can be acquired from renewable feedstock, hence assisting in reduction of greenhouse emissions. Moreover, biodegradable plastics have been known to offer major advantages to the environment, including increasing soil fertility, decreased accumulation of plastic materials and reduction of expenses associated with the waste management. In addition, such materials can be recycled in order to give metabolites that are useful to human beings. That is done by microorganisms and enzymes. Many efforts have also been directed at recycling non-biodegradables, such as polystyrene, that can be used as vital filler for other related plastics. The plastic industry is approximately a century old; regardless of the short period that it has been in existence, the industry has emerged integral to modern society. Almost every individual relies on the plastics industry. People use plastics in their day to day activities; they rely on plastic containers for beverages, foods and other household products (Ebnesajjad 15). Individuals also rely on plastic parts in electric appliances and locomotives, such as vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles, etc. Plastic devices are used in digital components, plastic toys, sporting gears, medical devices, school uniforms, beddings, water reservoirs among others. Current paper seeks to explore the biodegradable plastics with regards to their history, cost efficiency, versatile use, detailed process of manufacture, issues that are faced by the plastics industry and potential solutions that are possible in term of alternative processes of using such materials.

History of Plastics

The history of plastics dates back to the 1860s. Plastics discovery is believed to have been initiated by two United States Companies, Phelan and Collander. The two pool and billboard companies offered an award of about $10, 000 to anyone who would be in a position to develop an alternative for natural ivory. John Wesley Hyatt developed the first plastic material inform of celluloid. The product gained a significant ground in commercial use; it was used to manufacture products that found application in men’s collars and dental plates. Forty years later after the discovery of celluloid, Dr. Leo Hendrik Baekeland discovered phenoformaldehyde plastics, well known as phenolids. The material had the capability of withstanding both hot and cold temperature conditions. Baekeland innovation spearheaded production of cookware and a number of household and industrial plastic products.

In 1920, a major discovery occurred in the plastics development industry (Ebnesajjad 23). Hermann Staudinger a German chemist found out that plastics were a component of vast molecules joined together by strong chemical bonds. As a result, many scientists resorted into a critical research in the field of plastics. For this reason, many plastic products were manufactured during that time. Plastics, such as Nylon, polytetrafluoroethylene, methyl methacrylate, which is well known as Lucite or Plexiglas, were discovered at that time. The discovery of Teflon by Roy Plunkett in 1938 marked another great achievement in the plastic industry. Teflon was high quality plastic that could be applied as a coating on cookware products without sticking (Philp, Ritchie & Guy 65). The idea greatly influenced the attitude towards the plastic materials to the extent that plastics were used on weapons. As a result of Teflon’s ability to be highly inert, the material was particularly used during the Second World War to make the atomic bomb. Teflon was used to create gaskets that were inert to highly corrosive gases, such as UF6 used in the atomic bomb to purify uranium isotopes (Bhardwaj, Richa & Archana 574).

Even after World wars, advancement in the plastics industry continued to occur. Plastic materials earned application in machinery, safety helmets, in the military and also in the production of high temperature devices. In 1953, Karl Ziegler invented a modern form of plastic, Polythene. His discovery led to another invention by Giulio Natta in 1954 (Chen, Guo-Qiang & Martin 2087). Natta developed another type of modern plastics referred to as polypropylene. The two polythene and polypropylene are the today’s most commonly used type of plastics. To date, the search for more advanced plastics still continues. Improved ways to utilize the exiting plastics are in a constant rise substituting other commonly used materials, such as metals, glass and woods (Bhardwaj, Richa & Archana 575). For such reason, the world has embraced another age of plastics referred to as polymers.

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Apparently, several circumstances that took place during World War II greatly contributed to the growth of plastic industry. During that time there was a critical shortage of natural raw materials. For instance, Germany experienced low turnout of natural latex materials and, therefore, turned to plastic materials as the only substitute for natural latex. Consequently, synthetic rubber emerged to be the most suitable substitute. Similarly, after Japan became involved in the war, it became very difficult for the United State to import silk, natural rubber and other materials from the Eastern countries (Ebnesajjad 56). For such reason, it became obvious that the Americans had to rely on plastic materials for most of their activities. As a result, Nylon was used in many applications; it was utilized in many types of polyester, fabrics used it in the production of weapons and other materials during the Second World War.

Importance of Plastics

It must be stated that plastics have greatly transformed people’s lives. Use of plastics in the modern world has shaped the life quality of many individuals as they use plastics in their everyday activities. Apparently, there is no human activity where plastic materials are not involved. Plastics are used to satisfy the basic needs of people, including shelter, clothing, eating, travelling, communication, entertainment and health. All these activities critically depend on plastics in order to become successful. Plastics have indeed surpassed the application of other materials, such as woods, metals and clay (Philp, Ritchie & Guy 67). It is resulted by the fact that plastics have high attractive properties and characteristics. Plastic materials are of lightweight, they are of high strength and very easy to process. In addition, plastic materials possess unique properties: they are highly tough, rigid and very flexible. They may, as well, be transparent and opaque and, therefore, can be used as barrier materials (Reddy, Sanjeevani & Anusha 87). The following factors indicate why use of plastic materials has become very crucial in people’s lives.

Cost Effectiveness

When compared to other materials, such as metal, wood and glass, plastic materials have proved to be less costly. Manufacturing of metallic devices requires a relative high cost. As a result, the ready-made parts will definitely cost much for the buyer. Processing of metal requires additional costs from the time when it is harnessed from the ground. Much labor, machinery and time have to be invested into the whole process of handling metal (Ebnesajjad 67). Additionally, raw metal has to go through industrial processing for it to become ready for use in manufacturing of various products. Industrial processing requires high, costs considering that raw metal has to be processed by high temperatures to be transformed into desired shapes and designs. Apart from degrading the environment through deforestation, wood products have significantly contributed to global warming. With this trend, use of wood manufactured products pose a great threat to the existence of human race. It is caused by the facts that with consequences of global warming human beings will suffer from such factors as flush rains, skin burns, droughts, famine, etc. If consider glass, it must be admitted that it is very fragile; it can cause great losses when products that were manufactured break. Harnessing of glass is also costly; just like metal, glass has to be processed, which requires vast amount of money. With such findings, it is reasonable to assert that plastics are the most probable substitute for metal, wood and glass. For such reason, recycling of plastics do not only preserve the environment, but also creates easy affordable jobs to less learned individuals. Colleting of used plastic materials from the street do not require people to have experience or qualification of any caliber. Consequently, plastics are used in myriad applications to conserve natural resources (Yates & Claire 56). For instance, application of aseptic packaging of food in barrier packaging films has greatly saved refrigeration costs, as well as energy and capital.

Versatile Uses

Plastics are versatile for the reason that they have been able to adapt to many different applications and activities. Plastics are definitely the material that can be used to provide and manufacture things that consumers want and need in their lives. It is caused by the fact that plastics have the indisputable ability and capability to be produced in such a way that it meets very specific functional needs of users. Shopping In the recent years many things have completely changed in grocery stores. For example, plastic bags are used to wrap various food components, such as meat and milk (Chen, Guo-Qiang & Martin 2089). The wrapping has been significant in such a way that it has helped to keep the substances poking and protruding fingers of shoppers. Additionally, it is easy for anyone to lift a considerable plastic bottle of milk, oil or even juice. If by accident one drops the bottle, it is resistant to breakages. In each case, plastic materials have made life easier, more affordable and safer.

Modern packaging With today packaging, it has become very easy to keep food fresh and out of contamination. It has been enabled by heat-sealed plastic bags and wraps. For this reason, plastic packaging has led to reduced food wastages. In fact, plastic food packaging can lower food waste at approximately 1.7 pounds. Such finding has been recently discovered by packaging experts who are determined to reduce food wastage. In a recent study it has been discovered that plastics are very helpful materials to assist individuals carry home more products with much less packaging (Bhardwaj, Richa & Archana 577). For instance, it was discovered that one can easily carry eight gallons of beverages, such as milk or juice, when they are packed in a plastic bag. Carrying the same amount of beverages would require people to have at least three pounds of aluminum or twenty seven pounds of glass.

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Plastics in constructions, Plastic materials can inevitably help conserve energy in most households. Use of plastic in windows and vinyl siding is a crucial strategy in assisting one to reduce energy consumption, as well cooling and heating bills. The United State Energy Department has found that use of plastic foam insulation in building and households will save approximately six hundred barrels of oils, alongside with other kinds of insulations each year (Ebnesajjad 12).

Transport sectors Apart from manufacturing seats, seatbelts, dashboards and wind screens in vehicles, plastic materials are widely used in production of wheels to be used by vehicles, bicycles and motorcycles. Additionally, sign boards installed along many roads were made using plastic materials (Ebnesajjad 65). Attires that are worn by traffic officers, such as reflectors, are made in clothing and textile industries using plastic materials. Crossing bridges and bus stations have transparent roofs that are made by use of Nylon.

Health industry It has become very difficult for people to live without services provided in hospitals, clinics and other health centers. It is caused by the fact that a mortal man is susceptible to diseases and health issues, which can only be addressed in health centers. Most of the activities and functions exercised in hospitals in various ways solely depend on plastics. For example, drugs that are prescribed to suffering individuals and the syringes used to hold drug before injection are made using plastics. In each case, plastics have played a pivotal role. Many facilities in health center are made using a combination of plastics and other materials. X-ray machines, refrigerators, patient’s beddings are the examples of such facilities (Ebnesajjad 16).

Many new inventions were done using plastics, as well. Some of them are biologs that are widely used to control erosion. Biologs have been found effective, since they are made of complete biodegradable materials. They tend to attenuate wave energy, as well as buffer declines in the velocities of water flow. In addition, they help save enough time for vegetation or re-growth (Ebnesajjad 22). They can easily degrade, after they have completed their role in land conservation.

How Biodegradable Plastics are Made

Biodegradable plastics are usually manufactured using all-natural materials from plants. Biodegradable plastics are considered as materials that have a wide range of synthetic organic materials. The synthetic organic materials have the ability to be malleable and can also be distorted to into solid objects of different shapes and designs. The process of manufacturing degradable plastics is roughly divided into four categories.

Acquiring Monomer

It is the process of acquiring raw materials. Initially, raw materials that were used to produce plastics were derived from vegetable substances. They included such substances as cellulose that comes from cotton, oils derived from seeds, furfural fetched from oat hulls and derivatives obtained from starch. In modern society, however, plastics are manufactured from petrochemical substances. Such substances are very easy to obtain, they are also cheaper when compared to any other raw materials. Since oil is known to be an exhaustible natural resource, researchers are doing all possible to find other viable sources of raw materials (Hottle, Melissa & Amy 1899). Currently, coal gasification has emerged as the modern source of raw materials for plastics. It is the starting point towards the production of plastics and can also be known as distillation of raw materials into distinct parts. It is the work of heavy fractions to provide lubrication oils alongside with heavy oils that will be applied in fuel heating (Ebnesajjad 27). The building blocks used in the making of plastics are manufactured from naphtha.

The distillation of different parts from crude oil is performed as shown below:

Diagram Showing Distillation of Crude Oil

Figure 1. Diagram Showing Distillation of Crude Oil

At current stage, naphtha is passed through the cracking process where complex organic components are distinguished into small molecules. They rely on the molecular weight to a greater extent. The small molecules are inclusive of hydrocarbons, ethylene and butene alongside with propylene (Ebnesajjad 25). The compounds will be cracked in order to give plastic materials.

The process of naphtha cracking is shown below:

Diagram for Cracking Naptha

Figure 2. Diagram for Cracking Naptha

Synthesis of the Polymer

It is the first step in plastic manufacturing process well known as polymerization. During the process, synthesis of polymers may occur through condensation or addition reactions. Condensation reaction occurs in the process of polymers synthesis in monomers where two or more molecules are forced to join together. As a result, there is a production of water and other substances that are used to manufacture plastics. In addition, polymers are synthesized through addition of monomers by a chain mechanism, while incorporating active centers of the growing chains (Ebnesajjad 77). In some cases, polymerization ay occur through interfacing two immiscible liquids, in which monomers are completely dissolved. Cross-linking can also be used in making polymers where several molecules are brought together in order to create a structure that is three-dimensional in nature.
Most importantly, polymerization is distinguished into two groups, including thermosetting plastics and thermoplastics. It is vital to note that thermosetting polymers are transformed into complete form through heating and cannot be further softened through the process. On the other hand, thermoplastics can be softened and connected through heating, as well as hardened through cooling (Hottle, Melissa & Amy 1899).

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Additives

There are several chemical substances that can be added in the manufacturing of plastics. Such substances are added in order to obtain certain characteristics required in plastics.

Various additives used in the production of plastics are listed below:

  • Antistatics;
  • Lubricant substances important for reducing friction;
  • Flame retardant additives;
  • Plasticizers used to improve the flexibility of the polymer;
  • Pigments that are used to give the plastics color. Pigments are added in regard to the color required at that time;
  • In order to protect the plastics from weathering, ultraviolet stabilizers are added to the polymer;
  • Antioxidants are also added as they are used in order to protect the plastics from degradation by ozone or oxygen (North & Rolf 3).

Additives are essential for the reason that plastics are produced as composites. Therefore, in order to achieve quality composites, addition of reinforcements, such as carbon fibers and glass, to the plastics is very necessary. Reinforcements increase not only the strength of the plastic but also its stability (Hottle, Melissa & Amy 1900). Plastic foam may also be added to the plastics, it is an important composite for joining the plastics together.

Shaping and Finishing

A long time ago polymers were converted to useful materials through a process known as compression molding. The process utilizes pressure to force the plastics produce a desirable shape. During such activity, one half of a two-piece molding device (mold) is filled with plastics. The two halves of the mold are then mixed together. While the plastics are still in between the two halves, the mold is heated under high pressure in order to melt the plastic inside (Ebnesajjad 31).

Extrusion is currently one of the modern methods used in shaping plastics. The process utilizes a device known as an extruder. An extruder has been designed in such a way that it can force softened plastics through a shaped die in order to receive almost any form. The forcing of the softened plastics is facilitated by a screw incorporated in the extruder, which has the capability of providing constant pressure (North & Rolf 5).

Another method that is commonly used in shaping and finishing of plastics include calendering. The method is commonly used in producing plastic sheets and transfer molding. During such activity a softened plastic is forced to a mold by a ram.

Another method used in processing plastics is foaming. Plastic foams are utilized in the process of packaging, as well as upholstery industry, and are produced using blowing elements mixed together with the polymer. During heating, the agents tend to emit gas that forms bubbles. It is closely related to rotational molding that is applied in production of hollow thermoplastics, including drums and litter bins (Ebnesajjad 34).

Biodegradation Process by Microorganisms

The adherence of such microorganisms to the plastics’ surfaces accompanied by additional colonization of the materials is the main process through which biodegradation occurs. The process of microorganisms’ creation requires four stages, including the aerobic, non-methanogenic, methanogenic unsteady and methanogenic steady phases (North & Rolf 6). During the aerobic stage, the microbes are introduced when the moisture is added to the refuse. At that time the plastics provide an opportunity for swelling of molecules, as well as weakening of the polymer structures, hence creating gaps for moisture and microbial. In such way, carbon dioxide takes the place of oxygen.

During the anaerobic non-methanogenic stage, oxygen accumulation drops. Microbe colonies tend to eat the particulates and the huge polymer structures are reduced into little monomers. It occurs through the enzymatic process, which is followed by the methanogenic unsteady process between six to eighteen months. During that period, the microbe colonies increase and destroy the chain of polymers and create bigger gaps of molecules. At this stage the acetone genesis process takes place, hence changing fatty acids into carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The last stage is an anaerobic stage, which takes place between one and five years (North & Rolf 8). It takes place as conversion of acetates into methane, as well as carbon dioxide. At this stage, hydrogen is used to convert methane into biotechnology that is energy efficient.

Issues Facing the Plastic Industry

Several environmental issues alongside with regulatory procedures have affected the plastic industry. One of the biggest issues facing the industry is that it is being accused of polluting the environment.

Long-Term Hazards and Emissions

The industrial processes during the manufacturing cause the emission effluents and uses toxic intermediates that are regarded as pollutants in the environment. The plastics industry has been accused for lack of improved industrial processes use that can lead to minimization of exposure to harmful fumes, such as vinyl chloride (Yates & Claire 54). The plastic industry has been advised to adopt green processes that help in avoiding detrimental substance application. Most importantly, the problem of spillage of pellets made of plastics has been termed as a major problem associated with the industry. The process of eliminating discarded plastics from the environment is extremely complex, since they are non-degradable. They have also been designed in such a way that their service life is very long. It causes long-term hazards, since their disposals can take long time before decomposing. Such pellets tend to find their routes into the sewage systems (Ghosh, Sujoy & Sumanta 4343). They further move to the water bodies, such as seas and negatively influence marine life. The problem with such materials is that they have traces of non-plastic elements, including plasticizers, as well as monomers.

Most evidently, the industry has been accused of continuous health problems of its employees. That has been associated with chemicals, manual handling and noise within the plants. Moreover, chemicals are used and produced in form of by-products during the production process of plastics. Such chemicals have been regarded as hazardous when exposed to human beings. Moreover, manual handling leads to many injuries within the industry. The size of nature of plastic materials being handled can lead to injuries among personnel (Jakubowicz & Jonas 317). Noise issues have also been considered to have many effects on human health, including hearing complexities.

Regulations

The industry has also been affected by the laws and regulation regarding its practices. Current question has been discussed due to the fact that various health, safety and environmental concerns have been raised with regards to the industry. The regulations have been enacted under the bases of raw material manufacturing to the methods of shaping and processing the plastics. Certain regulations govern risk with regards to the volume of chemicals that should be used by the plastics companies. During the manufacturing process, legislation regulates the quantities of emissions released to the environment (Ghosh, Sujoy & Sumanta 4340). Employees are also protected through the council directives with regards to their health and safety. Most governments place emphasis on reduction of any volatile emissions from the industry. Production facilities are also closely monitored by the authorities, including tanks, pipes and other plant facilities. The regulations also govern end-of life solutions, including how the plastics ought to be used after their main purpose is done. They regulate waste management procedures, which should be compliant with the law. That way, landfill and reuse procedures should follow the rightful guidelines highlighted in each state’s law (Yates & Claire 54). Currently, most governments are on the verge of restricting production of non-degradable plastics in order to encourage biodegradable ones that can be easily decomposed.

Potential Solutions

Solutions are needed in order to deal with hazardous emissions from the industry and the problem of non-degradable plastics. Regarding the fact that most plastics are made from petroleum materials, they can be used as fuel options. Most plastics have energy values that are similar to that of coal. Consequently, the alternative here is to recycle them through burning in order to produce energy that will eventually save other raw materials. Moreover, the gases that are emitted during the burning process can be used as valuable resources. The best way of recycling plastics would be to collect and reprocess them. Despite the fact that the recycled items can seem low in quality, they can be used to make other things, such as dustbin bags. Owing to the fact that plastics have a long life span, especially when disposed as garbage, they can be remodeled into other vital items. Currently, several firms have introduced biodegradable things that are made from recycling conventional plastics. One of such items is the Bio-Green Bottle (Jakubowicz & Jonas 319).

The other alternative is reusing the plastics regardless of their degradability. The plastics can be easily cleaned and sterilized in order to be used for other purposes later. That will assist in reducing the amount of garbage disposed to the environment that can pose major threats to human, plant and animal life. Reusing plastics will eventually reduce the amount of virgin materials used in industry, as well as energy utilized in plastic plants. It can reduce the amount of emissions released to the environment. Reduction of emissions, such as carbon dioxide will play a vital role in ensuring healthy living. In most cases, reusing plastics is more efficient than recycling, since it consumers low energy along with little resources. Apart from reducing wastes, reusing and recycling assists in conservation of fossil fuels that are non-renewable in nature. The production of plastics consumes 8% of oil across the world during production and 4% of oil during manufacture (Bhardwaj, Richa & Archana 577).

With regards to the regulations that affect the plastics industry, there is no better alternative than to follow them. However, laws can be amended in order to require that all items should be made up of a certain percentage of a material that reduces the amount of raw materials. Better packaging procedures should also be introduced in order to ensure standardization of labeling and awareness. Consequently, the better way of labeling and packaging should be developed to introduce recyclable, reusable and degradable plastics to the consumers in a better manner (Jakubowicz & Jonas 320). That will assist in reducing the amounts of non-degradable plastics in the environment.

Conclusion

It is clear that the plastics industry is expanding due to a high demand of plastic items. The demand has increased due to the roles that they play in the world, including their versatile uses and cost effectiveness. Moreover, plastics production and usage dates back to the period prior to the World War I. The two companies that were initially involved in manufacturing plastics across the United States included Phelan and Collander in 1860s. Biodegradable plastics have become a part of the plastic industry. They are the plastics that can easily decompose once they are disposed into the environment. Biodegradable plastics are decomposed by the help of microorganisms and enzymes through aerobic and anaerobic processes. However, it has called for attention of manufacturers of plastics, since some of the plastics have been deemed to pollute the environment. Moreover, some of them do not decompose at all. It has caused constant approval of biodegradable plastics that can easily degrade. The production process is quite detailed, providing information about the shaping and processing procedures. It begins with formation of monomers, synthesizing the polymers through polymerization. It is followed by additions, shaping and the finishing process. The process has been criticized due to hazardous emissions. Therefore, there is a need to formulate possible alternatives to some of the issues facing the industry. Reusing and recycling of plastics, as well as production of controlled biodegradable plastics is very useful for the industry. Proper packaging procedures should also be followed in order to enhance customer knowledge of such plastics.