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If you stopped buying plastic water bottles, plates or bags that is because you probably know this: plastic is invading and destroying the Earth and its ecosystems. But while single-use plastic has to be reduced in order to actually save the Planet, we cannot say all plastic is bad: it is the use we do of it that really changes it all. As a matter of fact, not every piece of this material is turned into straws and ends up in the oceans: from medical equipment to building, from fishing to fashion industry, let us consider in which case plastic is essential or when it could be avoided.
Imagine, for instance, to suddenly end up at the hospital. Everything, starting from the machines you will need to get checked up to the simplest instrument, is made of plastic. This is, in fact, the most used and efficient material in the field: throughout the history of medicine, it has played a revolutionary role in developing healthcare industry. Products such as surgical gloves, syringes, IV tubes and insulin pens are made of plastic. Because of its versatility and sterility, it was able to increase safety, comfort and innovation and decrease costs, making healthcare more accessible to everyone. Furthermore, the durability of this material has made plastic a perfect candidate for prosthetics, replacing metal to provide better treatment. It is known to have high effectiveness in killing bacteria or pathogens, even when the surfaces are not regularly cleaned, and it is perfect to mould in order to make new medical devices for specific applications. Therefore, we can say that no better material for medical purpose has been created until today.
Consider, secondly, to start building your new dream house. Imagine your astonishment when you realize that many construction companies use plastic materials in order to make you save energy and keep the interior environments cooler. These materials actually come together with so many advantages that professionals cannot compare them with any others. Because of their durability, cost effectiveness, energy saving and safety they are used for roofing, flooring, insulation, pipes and windows, and while you are enjoying quiet on your sofa, they allow to decrease sound pollution. Again, since no better material for this purpose has been discovered, you decide that this exception to the reducing of the use of plastic is worth it. You could always try to make small sustainable adjustments to your house that can still make a difference.
By contrast, you have the power to decide which dress to buy or which package not to, how to shop for food and eat. These things could seem worthless, but they have a bigger impact on the environment and plastic use than you would think. According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), about 35% of microplastics come from fast fashion industry, in which synthetic clothing fibres, such polyester, are used. As the newly released Netflix documentary Seaspiracy showed, at least 70% of macro plastic at sea comes from fishing gear, even in the case of “ocean safe fishing farms” (which, as shown in the documentary, do not properly exist). Therefore, we can consider medical and building industry a really tiny spot in the plastic pollution system, knowing that we normally go shopping more often than we build a new house.
So, is plastic sustainable? Because it is made from oil and it is highly requested, even in fields that do not necessarily need it, it is not considered sustainable. But is all plastic bad? We can always progress with the invention of new materials, but meanwhile life on the Planet is at risk, we certainly can decide the use we do of it. As medical and construction use can attest, plastic was an invention that changed the world but, as clothing and fishing use show, it also contributed to destroying it. The only thing we can do is try to find a better alternative to what can be avoided and be more responsible consumers.
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