Is Polyethylene Good for the Environment?

published on 08 March 2024

Is polyethylene good for the environment? At first glance, polyethylene, a widely used plastic, offers numerous benefits such as durability, water resistance, and affordability. It's found in everyday items like shopping bags, food containers, and water bottles. However, its environmental impact raises concerns. Here's a quick overview:

  • Polyethylene Production: Harms the environment from the get-go, requiring fossil fuels and releasing CO2.
  • Use Phase: Its impact varies; single-use items contribute to waste, while long-lasting products are less harmful.
  • End-of-Life: Hardly biodegradable, leading to pollution and harm to wildlife.
  • Bio-Based Alternatives: Offer a lower carbon footprint, are renewable, and sometimes more biodegradable.
  • Human Health: Concerns over chemical exposure and microplastic ingestion.

Overall, while polyethylene has its conveniences, its environmental and health impacts suggest a need for sustainable alternatives and improved recycling and disposal methods.

Polyethylene Production

Making polyethylene starts with getting fossil fuels like natural gas or oil from the ground. This process can harm the air and water, destroy animal homes, and add to climate change by releasing harmful gases.

Turning these fossil fuels into ethylene, which is needed to make polyethylene, uses a lot of energy and lets out carbon dioxide. For every ton of polyethylene made, about 1.8 tons of CO2 are released. This means making polyethylene isn't great for the environment right from the start.

Polyethylene Use Phase

Polyethylene products like plastic bags, bottles, and food containers are often used once and then thrown away. This leads to more production and more waste, which isn't good for our planet.

However, some polyethylene items like pipes and furniture last a long time and don't harm the environment as much while they're being used. So, whether polyethylene is bad or not so bad depends on how and how long each item is used.

End-of-Life Polyethylene

Polyethylene doesn't break down easily. It can last more than 400 years in nature. Because less than 10% of it is recycled, most ends up in landfills or the ocean, causing pollution and hurting wildlife homes. Small bits of plastic, or microplastics, can get into animals and even our food.

So, when it comes to the environment, the way we get rid of polyethylene is a big problem. It's bad for animals, the planet, and possibly our health.

Case Study: Bio-Based Polyethylene

Bio-based polyethylene is a kind of polyethylene that's made from plants like sugar cane, corn, potatoes, and vegetable oils, instead of stuff from the ground like oil or gas. This new way of making polyethylene is better for the environment in a few ways.

Lower Carbon Footprint

Since bio-based polyethylene comes from plants that suck CO2 out of the air while they grow, it's much friendlier to the environment. Research says that bio-based polyethylene can cut down the bad gases that warm our planet by 60-80% compared to the usual polyethylene.

Renewable Resources

The plants used to make bio-based polyethylene are the kind that we can grow again and again. This means we could keep making it without running out, unlike oil and gas that take forever to come back.


While the usual polyethylene sticks around for a really long time, the plant-based kind can break down into harmless stuff like carbon dioxide and water in just a few years under the right conditions. This means less plastic hanging around where it shouldn't be.


Even though it's made from plants, bio-based polyethylene is just as tough and works just as well as the regular kind. It can be used for all sorts of things, from throwaway items to stuff we use for a long time, but with less harm to the environment.

So, when asking if polyethylene is good for the environment, the plant-based kind shows us there's a way to keep using polyethylene without the big environmental impact. As more people start using it, this could be a big step in moving away from plastics made from fossil fuels.

Human Health Considerations

Polyethylene is a type of plastic that we use a lot, but it might not be completely safe for us. Here are two main things to worry about when it comes to our health:

Exposure to Harmful Chemicals

  • When making polyethylene, manufacturers add different chemicals to it, like things that make it more flexible or colorful. Some of these chemicals can be harmful.
  • If polyethylene products get too hot or are exposed to sunlight, or if they get scratched up, these harmful chemicals can get into our food, drinks, and the air around us.
  • Some of these chemicals, like BPA and phthalates, can mess with our bodies in bad ways, affecting how we grow or our ability to have kids.

Microplastic Particle Ingestion

  • Over time, polyethylene breaks down into tiny bits called microplastics, which can end up in our food and water.
  • Scientists have found these tiny plastic bits in things like fish, honey, salt, and water, which means we might be eating or drinking them.
  • We're still figuring out how bad this is for us, but it could cause problems like stomach upset, harm our cells, or mess with the good bacteria in our guts, especially if the plastics have harmful chemicals on them.

To help with these issues, people are trying to:

  • Come up with safer chemicals to use in plastics
  • Get better at recycling so there's less plastic waste and fewer microplastics around
  • Improve how we clean water to catch these tiny plastics
  • Look into other materials that can break down more easily and won't stick around in the environment or our bodies for so long

Even though polyethylene is super common, finding ways to use it safely and deal with its waste is important for keeping us and the planet healthy.


Strategies for Improvement

To make polyethylene less harmful to our environment, we all need to work together - companies, governments, and people like you and me. Here are some steps we can take:

Reduce Usage and Promote Alternatives

  • Let's use less of things like plastic bags, straws, and food wraps. We can learn about this through campaigns and laws.
  • Companies should try to use less polyethylene in their products and packaging.
  • We should learn about and use other materials like paper, glass, or bamboo more often.
  • Support new, earth-friendly plastics that can break down naturally.

Enhance Recycling and Enable Circularity

  • Make recycling easier and more common by improving how we collect and sort plastics.
  • Encourage everyone to recycle more by making it worth their while, like giving money back for returned bottles.
  • Get better at recycling by using new technology.
  • Use recycled materials more and find ways to recycle plastics that are hard to recycle now.

Manage Disposal and Prevent Pollution

  • Governments should be strict about how plastic waste is handled.
  • Make sure plastic waste is picked up and disposed of properly.
  • Stop illegal dumping with tough rules and fines.
  • Look into ways to turn waste plastic into energy without harming the environment.

Foster Collaboration and Policy Action

  • Everyone - businesses, governments, and environmental groups - needs to work together.
  • Create clear rules and encourage companies to be more green.
  • Give benefits to businesses that are doing good for the environment.
  • Be open about how much plastic is made, used, thrown away, and recycled.

By taking these steps, we can use materials like polyethylene in a way that's better for our planet.

Why is polythene not good for the environment?

Polythene, which is a type of plastic, is bad for the environment because it takes a really long time to break down. If it's thrown away carelessly, it can end up in places where it shouldn't be, like oceans or forests. Animals might eat it by mistake and get sick because it can block their stomachs. Since polythene can stay around for hundreds of years, finding better ways to handle waste and using materials that are kinder to the earth can help lessen its environmental harm.

Is polyethylene plastic biodegradable?

No, the usual polyethylene plastic we use doesn't break down easily. It can last for a very long time in landfills or out in nature, which isn't good for the planet. There are some new kinds of plastics that can break down faster because they're made from plants or have special ingredients. But, the regular polyethylene we see a lot doesn't go away quickly, leading to too much plastic hanging around.

Is polyethylene Sustainable?

Polyethylene has some good points but also big problems when it comes to being sustainable. Even though we can recycle it, we don't recycle much because it's hard to sort and process. Also, it's made from things like oil, which we can run out of. But, if we use polyethylene items for a long time and get better at recycling, it helps. We still need to do a lot more to make polyethylene a truly sustainable choice.

Is polyethylene film eco friendly?

No, polyethylene film isn't really eco-friendly because it doesn't break down well and can last for a very long time in places like landfills. It's great for keeping food fresh, but it also adds to the big problem of plastic pollution. Some companies are trying to make better options, like films that can break down or are made from different materials. Still, the usual polyethylene films are a big part of why we have so much plastic waste and why it's tough on our ecosystems. Changing how we throw things away and using other materials can help reduce this problem.

Related posts

Read more

Built on Unicorn Platform
Not set