Petroleum Based Plastic
Compostable Materials - A Sustainable Replacement Of Petroleum Based Packaging?
2.1 Petroleum Based Plastic
- Our Era's Defining Material -
As copper defined the Bronze Age and the Iron Age was defined with iron, our era’s will be remembered as the Age of Plastic.
The first fully synthetic polymers were developed in New York in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. His Bakelite as the plastic is called, “could be molded very quickly, an enormous advantage in mass production processes where many identical units were produced one after the other.”(8) However the exponential growth of plastic didn’t take of until the 1960s, as a direct outgrowth of industries developing during World War 2.(9) It quickly became a symbol for the convenience of Modern Living and its durability was seen solely as a positive thing.(10) Today plastic is considered as the ubiquitous workhorse of materials for the modern economy and as a integral part of the daily-life. The production of petroleum based plastic is set to grow steeply, with a doubling of plastic produced in the coming 20 years.(11)(12)
The conventional plastic of today is derived out of fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal. Of the approximately 311 million metric tons plastic is produced annually, 90% is derived out of a petroleum based feedstock.(13) To make petroleum based plastic you need water, fossil fuel, chemical additives and more fossil fuel to produce it.(14) Fossil fuels are so called “virgin feedstock” and is not renewable source of raw material. Moreover, is it non degradable in nature within a meaningful human time.
Petroleum based feedstock is actually organic (like every material on this Earth) however, the synthesised compound created is not. The backbone of the fossil feedstock is chemically altered to make extremely strong carbon to carbon bindings, which is what makes it so durable. These bindings are foreign for microorganisms that digest organic matters and that is why plastic is non degradable. Furthermore are plastic molecule gigantic molecules, made up of an enormous long polymer chain. A typical plastic molecule outweighs a water molecule with 10.000 to 18 adding to the hardship of breaking it down.(15)
Common plastic objects like PET-bottles made out of polyethylene, can take hundreds of years to break down, while others may take thousands.(16) Even though plastic can be turned into smaller pieces, fragments or particles, the molecule will still stay the same for a very long time. Another perspective is given by the plasticpollutioncoalition.com “Every single piece of plastic ever created still exists - including the small amount that has been incinerated and has become toxic particular matter.”(17)