eli5: Plastics are polymers that are engineered to have specific uses for utility. Why can’t they be engineered to be better for the environment?

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I really can’t wrap my head around this. With all the garbage created from plastics, can’t they just design and engineer green versions?

Update: Sorry guys, I know I’m oversimplifying everything here. Thanks for the great contribution. Really appreciate it. I didn’t get the answer i wanted, but it was worth a shot.

In: Chemistry

7 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

they are doing exactly that, and have been doing for decades. however, like all things, its a “pick two out of three” kind of thing. very superficially – cheap, green, effective. you get at best two out of three. cheap and green? no problem, recycled plastics or simple soy based polymers. green and effective? can do, but it’s going to require a lot of specialty engineering that may not scale *at all*. cheap and effective? that’s where we are currently at.

a second compounding problem is – it’s not so straightforward what is overall better. if I make a bioplastic that breaks down into neat safe biodegradable building blocks within 2 years, that’s awesome. but it also means that I need to replace whatever it’s made into every two years, every two years I need to input the raw materials and energy as opposed to the (arbitrary number) 10 years a regular plastic may have lasted. and that’s if it can even be replaced. maybe it’s a fitting for say a vacuum cleaner which breaks down, and now people throw the whole cleaner away instead of replacing that one part because people are lazy like that.

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