Industry Voice: The ultra-long lifespan of plastics is proving an ecological challenge. As consumers become alarmed at the environmental contamination caused by synthetic organic polymers, we look at the alternatives and the role of investors in pushing for change.
The working life of a plastic bag is around twelve to fifteen minutes. Five trillion of them will be used around the world this year - equivalent to 160,000 a second. Most are used just once, cast aside, then the process of breaking down gets underway. If collected and incinerated, this stage could last nanoseconds, or stretch 1000 years if left to wind its own course. With the global system of waste management and recycling struggling, some of the world's larger waste producers are beginning to step up and take greater responsibility.
Bioplastics are a key area of focus, with particular interest in plastics developed from renewable sources, such as plant-based starches from sugar cane, wood cellulose, corn starch or tubers like sweet potatoes. Some have a distinctive advantage; in the right conditions, with enough water and a high enough temperature, bacteria can breakdown their essential components. Nevertheless, they are by no means a perfect solution.
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