Plastics and especially single-use plastics have become a hot topic in the past year. Environmental issues like pollution and climate change have made consumers more aware of the materials they use every day, with plastic quickly becoming the prime focus of a number of campaigns. Green activists have called for reductions in plastic manufacturing, or even outright bans in some areas.

A small number of academics from the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have, however, put forth a claim that replacing all plastics other materials like glass or metal could double the amount of energy consumed globally, leading to the production of threefold the greenhouse gas emissions. The academics warned that although banning plastic might seem like a move towards a greener future, it could spell harm for the greater environment.

The group cautioned that the energy required to manufacture the alternatives to plastic- often metal or glass- would need a great deal more resources. Greenhouse gas emissions would also be heightened by the additional fuel required to transport these heavier materials, compared to the light weight of plastics.

Professor David Bucknall, chair in materials chemistry at Heriot-Watt University’s Institute of Chemical Sciences, made a plea for changes in the way we use plastics; “While some people may wish for plastics to be reduced or banned altogether, we need to ensure we are replacing them with materials that are better for the planet. In many cases there is no credible alternative to using plastic, so we need to move towards a ‘circular economy’ for plastics, rather than the largely ‘make-use-dispose’ model we currently adopt. This will require changes and improvements in not only the plastics we are making but getting better at reusing and recycling them.”

The academics have called for manufacturers and consumers to work together to find solutions to the current environmental issues.

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