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How do we replace plastic?

In a very short period of time, plastic has earned popularity in various aspects of packaging and other many engineering applications.

The utility of single-use plastic (SUP) in packaging has emerged due to its excellent preservation capabilities, protection abilities and low prices. It is a unique solution for the application in packaging food items to maintain the freshness of the food items.

However, it has drawbacks.

The plastic like PVC, PS, Celluloid were discovered in the nineteenth century and later on PE, PP were commercialized. From the beginning of the twentieth century, it readily replaced the other packaging materials made of glass or paper due to its synthetic nature, high production rate, excellent barrier properties, high mechanical durability and versatility.

Low density polyethylene (dispensing bottles, wash bottles, tubing, etc.), linear low density polyethylene (plastic wrap, stretch wrap, pouches, toys, covers, lids, pipes, buckets and containers, etc.), polypropylene (Plastic containers, Reusable water bottles, Medical components, Outdoor furniture, Toys, Luggage, Car parts, etc.), cellophene, polyvinyl chloride (window frames, drainage pipe, water service pipe, medical devices, blood storage bags, cable and wire insulation, resilient flooring, roofing membranes, stationary, etc.), are few examples of SUP which are completely non-biodegradable and remains as it is in the nature for more than 450 years [1]. Then it is disposed directly to the nature by the most of its users.

SUP is defined as the product whose life cycle is less than few hours, non-biodegradable under domestic composting or landfill conditions, non-retrievable and which loses more than 95% of its economic value after single use.

Huge amount of plastic waste is generated due to our ‘‘throw away culture’’ [2]. Most of the plastic waste goes to either landfill or various water bodies like ocean, river, lake, pond etc. According to the prediction of Dr. Lebreton [3], ‘‘at least 79 (45–129) thousand tonnes of ocean plastic are floating inside an area of 1.6 million km2 ’’. This directly affects marine life as well as raises the pollution in nature. Dr. Nelsen, stated that ‘‘An estimated 8.3 billion tons of virgin plastics have been produced to date, of which 4.9 billion tons have ended up in landfills or natural environment’’ [4].

In Europe, ‘‘25 million tonnes of postconsumer plastic waste is generated every year’’ [5]. In order to find effective remedy to mitigate the ever increasing pollution anti-single-use plastic movement has been initiated all over the world.

According to Dr. Maguire [2], 2018 is the year which is marked as turning point in the history of ‘‘plastic pollution’’. In this year, U.S.A., The European Commission, The UK, Chile, banned the use of SUP products.

With the immediate effect, supermarkets and many companies phased out lightweight plastic bags. Many transnational companies have restricted plastic straws and replaced it with paper based straws. But the fact is SUP has become an important part of our life today and it is very difficult to find a suitable replacement for it.