In daily life, humans get various conveniences from plastic packaging. According to a Greenpeace report, 855 billion plastic sachets were sold in the global market in 2019, with Southeast Asia holding a market share of around 50%.
That report states that the demand for plastic packaging will continue to soar in the future. Many manufacturers will increase their capacity to meet market needs. Unfortunately, this case is in line with the increasing plastic waste volume that leaks into the environment, which is also increasingly uncontrolled.
Quoted from the Waste4Change’s latest research titled Waste4Change Insight: Flexible Plastic Waste Material Flow in DKI Jakarta, the total generation of flexible plastic waste in DKI Jakarta in 2020 reached 279.63 tons/day. This number may increase, considering that plastic packaging continues to be used in every product.
Reasons why plastic packaging is still being used and produced
The high pile of plastic waste does not discourage many people from avoiding plastic, like when they go shopping. In addition, until now, plastic is still being produced, although plastic waste continues to dominate the total national waste.
What is the reason? Why is plastic packaging still being used and also produced by many parties?
Maintain Food Quality
According to National Geographic Indonesia, plastic packaging is considered to be able to extend the shelf life of foodstuffs. The reason is that the air significantly affects the quality of food, fruits, and vegetables. And plastic can prevent this better than the original ‘wrapping’ of the vegetable or fruit itself.
The food supply chain is a complex network. It usually starts from the production site to storage facilities for processing and then is stored until later distributed to buyers. These processes might take hours or even days. The producers and distributors need to find a way to keep the food from rotting.
Reduce Food Waste
According to Earth.org, the massive role of plastic packaging is for food and food safety. Plastics are still considered indispensable to minimize food waste so that food can be fresh longer.
From National Geographic Indonesia, more than 50% of food waste is produced by a household. Meanwhile, almost 20% were thrown away during processing. So plastic packaging also seems necessary to reduce this high level of waste in both areas.
Compared to other packaging materials, plastic is said to be more flexible and lighter than other alternative materials, such as cardboard, paper, and even glass. As a result, manufacturers can reduce transportation costs and accompanying carbon emissions.
In theory, paper is considered more biodegradable than plastic and much easier to recycle. However, it is said to end up in the trash more often because of its high level of degradation. If the paper is wet and dirty, the value will decrease. Aspects of functionality and durability make plastic still needed in its existence today.
The price difference between plastic and glass beverage packaging is not too far away. But, the company thinks they can save on distribution processes and minimize other environmental impacts because plastic packaging is lighter and easier to compact.
The Impact of Plastic Packaging on the Environment
Referring to National Geographic Indonesia, nearly 700 species of animals, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastic waste. Furthermore, microplastics produced from plastic breakdown have been found in more than 100 aquatic species, including fish, shrimp, and shellfish, that humans commonly consume. Worse, research results prove that microplastics have reached human feces.
Plastic waste that accumulates uncontrollably contributes to soil pollution and can block sunlight and water absorption. It can reduce soil fertility and cause flooding. The plastic waste is carried away by flood currents, has the potential to end up in the ocean, and is forever unmanaged.
According to data from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK), in 2020, Indonesia’s oceans were polluted by around 1,772.7 grams of waste per square meter (g/m2). Plastic waste dominates 627.80 g/m2, equivalent to 35.4% of the total marine debris. The dangerous thing is when a photodegradation reaction occurs and breaks down plastic into toxic particles that have the potential to contaminate the human food chain.
Plastic components scattered in the air also pose a threat to human health. For example, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic which contains halogens, can produce dioxins when burned. Dioxins that pollute the air, are inhaled by humans, and enter the respiratory system can cause many health problems. The effect can trigger cancer, act as a hormone disruptor, and harm the reproductive system.
Solutions to Reduce the Use of Plastic Packaging and Manage its Waste
It seems complicated to separate plastic from the lives of the people. However, through the responsible use and management of plastic, starting from the production process to becoming a waste, we can slightly reduce concerns about the dangers of plastic waste to the environment.
For example, taking advantage of the refill service for household products delivered to your home is a good option to reduce plastic packaging waste. This kind of service allows selling household products without plastic packaging, thereby helping to reduce the creation of new packaging waste, which has a high chance of being wasted.
In addition, the community can learn to sort their waste responsibly. As is known, plastic packaging has a high recycling potential. Especially sorting the waste from the source. Unfortunately, not everyone knows and is aware of this. Causing the plastic packaging waste to be wasted in a state mixed with other types of waste. Its value has also decreased and is no longer in demand.
On the other hand, producers and traders must also start thinking about reducing and reusing plastics whenever possible. Starting by shortening the food supply chain, using other alternatives to keep food durable and long-lasting, or developing packaging innovations that are more biodegradable.
Plastic credit is a new idea that many parties initiated to support the reduction of plastic emissions. WWF defines Plastic Credit as a transferable unit representing a certain amount of plastic collected and possibly recycled from the environment. Companies can take responsibility for the plastic they emit into the environment by funding an equivalent plastic waste recycling project.
This can be said to create benefits for both parties. Companies can claim to be Plastic Neutral because they are responsible for the plastic pollution they emit. Meanwhile, recycling projects can obtain funds to support plastic collection and recycling projects.
Based on this problem, Waste4Change is a responsible waste management service provider that supports the consistent implementation of Plastic credit. One of them is the Waste Credit service, which aims to help producers collect more waste for recycling and reduce waste in landfills.