Plastics have a wide variety of uses in our society, however we are now realizing the high cost to the environment that plastics have long after their use. As a waste product plastics are very difficult to deal with. Although modern technology has improved how plastic waste is handled, used plastic products linger for decades in landfills or where ever dumped causing a hazard to wild life, ground water and the atmosphere in general. To summarize plastic is not environmentally friendly at all.
The manufacturing of plastics creates large quantities of chemical pollutants. Indeed until fairly recently the manufacturing of plastic contributed significantly to the depletion of the ozone layer. CFCs are now banned and no longer used in the manufacturing process for plastic resulting in a significant improvement regarding environmental impact. Nevertheless, while the manufacturing process has improved the handling of plastic waste remains a difficult problem.
Plastics breakdown very slowly and burning plastic releases toxic fumes. Bacteria have been developed to help break down plastic waste but this process causes the release of carbon gases into the atmosphere contributing to global warming. By the mid-nineties plastic recycling programs had become common. Some types of plastic can be melted down and reused while other types can be ground up and reused and still other types can be broken down into a different compound and reused. Unfortunately recycling plastic is difficult to automate making it labor intensive and thus unprofitable. There have been some successful programs, for example with prison industries in some states, where products have been made using recycled plastic. If you have ever seen plastic picnic tables at rest areas along highways you have experienced the use of recycled plastic at its best, the tables are virtually indestructible hard plastic. These type programs can be successful because the labor costs are low. For the most part plastic recycling has not been successful because it is so hard to make a profit.
The best way for people concerned about the environment to help is to stop using plastic grocery bags and to stop buying bottled water. Instead use paper bags or reusable net or cloth bags, use a water filter at home and carry a reusable non-plastic water bottle with you. These simple steps would cut down on plastic waste tremendously and have a huge positive impact on the environment.