Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The War on Plastic

Credit:501room/Adobe

Credit:501room/Adobe

By Ian Lowe

Our present epoch has been called the Anthropocene because of the dominance of human activity, but perhaps it should be called the Plasticine.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Our present epoch has been called the Anthropocene because of the dominance of human activity, but perhaps it should be called the Plasticine.

Waste is an increasingly important problem in Australia. For several years, the issue has been avoided by sending much of our waste to China, but that avenue has now been closed. The ABC program War on Waste has exposed the issue of plastic waste. Almost 80% of the huge amount of plastic used in Australia is dumped, either in landfill or in our waterways. That is a special problem because of the durability of most of the polymers used for these throw-away items.

I gave a presentation to the plastics industry 30 years ago, urging them to take advantage of the long life of their materials. I said they should be trying to shift the industry away from making cheap products to be used briefly and then discarded. Unlike iron, which rusts, and aluminium, which corrodes, and glass, which shatters, a plastic item could potentially last for centuries. So the industry would be making a positive contribution by making high-quality goods that would be treasured for generations. That shift has not happened. Most items made from plastic materials have a very short life before being, literally, thrown away.

The ABC program paid special attention to the disposable containers used for bottled water. This product is surely one of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.