Scientists have been following the chemical trail of plastics, quantifying their impact on human health and the environment.
"We are in need of a second plastic revolution. The first one brought us the age of plastics, changing human society and enabling the birth and explosive growth of many industries. But the materials used to make plastics weren't chosen judiciously and we see the adverse consequences in widespread environmental pollution and unnecessary human exposure to harmful substances. Smart plastics of the future will be equally versatile but also non-toxic, biodegradable and made from renewable energy sources," says Halden.
As Halden explains, the problems posed by plastics need to be addressed on several fronts, and current research offers significant hope for improvements to human and environmental health. Better biodegradeable plastics are now being developed using carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide compounds and applying metal complexes as catalysts.
Nevertheless, the largest source of plastics-related environmental damage stems from the overuse of items whose long-term harm outweighs their short-term benefit. Typically, these are consumer convenience items, often quickly discarded after a short use-life, including plastic water bottles, grocery bags, packaging, Styrofoam cups, Teflon-coated dental floss and other products. Halden recommends a thorough life-cycle assessment of plastics-based products, to identify safer, more sustainable replacement materials that reduce adverse effects to the environment and human health from plastic consumption.