Alternatives to use of plastics

There is little doubt that waste plastics are a major environmental contaminant these days.

That is not to suggest all plastics need to be abandoned and forgotten. It would be folly to think after decades of reliance on plastics for such a wide variety of things that we could move away from them completely, at least anytime soon.

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But, the issue remains a serious one because plastics simply do not break down once they are tossed into landfills, or our oceans. Plastics have a half-life that seems only slightly shorter than many radioactive elements, and perhaps in terms of long term impact are only slightly less dangerous.

National Geographic suggests plastic kills millions of marine and land animals every year.

And it has also been reported we are all consuming microplastics, which frankly can’t be seen as a good thing.

While we may not be able to stop the use of all plastics, we can at least begin to more seriously consider alternatives.

As it stands one report suggested the current rate of plastic production is about one billion tons in three years according to a 2016 article in ScienceDaily quoting a University of Leicester study.

In that regard agriculture can most certainly play a role.

For example hemp is one of the earliest plants that our ancestors cultivated and used, with archeological finds showing evidence of the use of hemp fiber some 10,000 years ago. Cultivation of the plant goes back nearly as long.

Since it is related to marijuana cultivation was all but abandoned in most countries, but a more liberal view of marijuana should pave the way to grow hemp again.

The biodegradable nature of hemp makes it an appealing alternative to a range of products now made out of plastics which at best become an environmental nuisance and at worst a serious danger.

Similarly, wool could well return to use in far more products than it is today.

Started in 2010, the “Campaign for Wool is a global endeavor initiated by its patron, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, in order to raise awareness amongst consumers about the unique, natural and sustainable benefits offered by wool.”

Wool is intriguing since it is renewable, sheep growing a coat of it each year

And it too is biodegradable. “At the end of its useful life, wool can be returned to the soil, where it decomposes, releasing valuable nutrients into the ground. When a natural wool fibre is disposed of in soil, it takes a very short time to break down, whereas most synthetics are extremely slow to degrade,”

All that is needed is for consumers to demand more products from hemp and wool and farmers will move to supply both, with the environment being the ultimate winner.

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