Environmental Issues Worldwide

Figure 2

Distribution of world plastic production (adapted from []).

Polyethylene has the highest share of production of any polymer type, while four sectors: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which accounts for 20% of thermoplastic resin capacity, followed by polypropylene (PP), which accounts for 18%, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polystyrene/expanded polystyrene (PS/EPS), represent 72% of plastic demand: packaging, construction, automotive and electrical and electronic equipment as shown in Figure . The rest includes sectors such as household, furniture, agriculture and medical devices . Plastic packaging accounts for the largest share of plastic production in the world level. About 50% of plastic is used for single-use disposable applications, such as packaging, agricultural films and disposable consumer items . Plastics were the second largest component in waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), and approximately 30% of the mass electronic scrap consists of plastics [, , ]. Plastics consume approximately 8% of world oil production: 4% as raw material for plastics and 3% to 4% as energy for manufacture [, ].Figure 3

World thermoplastic resin capacity, 2008 (adapted from ).

The plastic industry is in constant development, with technology evolving in response to the ever-changing demand. Some trends that emerge clearly are continued innovation and improvements such as weight reduction of individual items, increasing use of plastics (and bioplastics) in vehicle manufacturing, a shift in primary plastic production to transition and emerging economies and continued growth in the market share of bioplastics (despite some sorting and price barriers).

Bioplastics make up only 0.1% to 0.2% of total EU plastics . It is estimated that plastics save 600 to 1, 300 million tonnes of CO2 through the replacement of less efficient materials, fuel savings in transport, contribution to insulation, prevention of food losses and use in wind power rotors and solar panels . In 2000, the consumption of polymers for plastic applications in Western Europe was 36, 769, 000 tonnes, an increase of 3.4% from 1999 . Of the generated municipal solid waste (MSW) in Thailand, 14% were plastics . According to Onwughara , the percentage components of plastics and nylon of different categories of solid generated in Umuahia, capital of Abia State, Nigeria were 1.5% and 10.2%, respectively. Of the generated wastes in Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, 22.65% were plastics .

The chemicals produced known as dioxins and furan from plastic, especially incinerating plastics, have been implicated in birth defects and several kinds of cancer. The slag and fly ash were found to be environmentally beneficial in cement production and for off-gases for power production . Thermoplastics make up 80% of the plastics produced today . Examples of thermoplastics include high-density polyethylene (HDPE) used in piping, automotive fuel tanks, bottles and toys; low-density polyethylene (LDPE) used in plastic bags, cling film and flexible containers; PET used in bottles, carpets and food packaging; PP used in food containers, battery cases, bottle crates, automotive parts and fibres; PS used in dairy product containers, tape cassettes, cups and plates; and PVC used in window frames, flooring, bottles, packaging film, cable insulation, credit cards and medical products.

There are hundreds of types of thermoplastic polymer, and new variations are regularly being developed. In developing countries, the number of plastics in common use, however, tends to be much lower. Thermosets make up the remaining 20% of plastics produced. They are hardened by curing and cannot be re-melted or re-moulded and are therefore difficult to recycle. They are sometimes ground and used as a filler material. They include polyurethane (PU) - coatings, finishes, gears, diaphragms, cushions, mattresses and car seats; epoxy - adhesives, sports equipment and electrical and automotive equipment; and phenolics - ovens, handles for cutlery, automotive parts and circuit boards. The global demand for plastic composites has grown significantly over the past few years (Figure ).Figure 4

Global demand in the composite industry (Mt) (adapted from ).

Nowadays, the raw materials for plastics come mainly from petrochemicals, although originally plastics were derived from cellulose, the basic material of all plant life. The materials used in electronics have several important characteristics. In PC monitors and televisions (TVs), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) are used for cathode ray tube protection. Also, polyphenylene oxide (PPO) has good properties such as high temperature resistance, rigidity, impact strength and creep resistance.

Table shows the summary of typical resins used in different electrical and electronics equipment , and Table shows the weight percentage of manufactured plastic from organic compounds [, ]. Polymer types used in various construction applications are described in Table .

Table 1

Resins used in electronic products

Table 2

Manufactured plastic from organic compounds

Table 3

Main polymers used for applications

A more recent projection (Figure ) shows slightly slower growth to just over 1.4 Mt in 2013, but the trend is still strongly positive. The SRI study projects total consumption of biodegradable polymers worldwide at an average annual growth rate of 13% from 2009 to 2014 .Figure 5

Global production capacity of bioplastics (Mt) (adapted from []).

According to Kurudufu , it is estimated that 100 million tonnes of plastics are produced each year. The average European throws away 36 kg of plastics each year. Four percent of oil consumption in Europe is used for the manufacture of plastic products. Some plastic waste sacks are made from 64% recycled plastic. Plastic packaging totals 42% of the total consumption, and very little of this is recycled. In 2008, total generation of post-consumer plastic waste in EU-27, Norway and Switzerland was 24.9 Mt. Packaging is by far the largest contributor to plastic waste at 63%. Average EU-27 per capita generation of plastic packaging waste was 30.6 kg in 2007 . There are lots of different plastics, and they will give off lots of different vapours when they decompose. Figure shows various areas where plastics are used .Figure 6

Utilization of plastic in various fields.

It could be just a simple hydrocarbon or it could contain cyanides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or lots of other substances. Without knowing what the plastic was (including what additives might have been incorporated), it would be difficult to know what likely volatiles it would create; volatiles given off from plastics in house fires are a major cause of death. Halogenated plastics, those that are made from chlorine or fluorine, are problematic. This work will review environmental issue ascertained from the development of plastics.

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