It’s still popular for the environmentally naïve or whacky to dump on plastics. Sure, we’re not talking about the 1990s when PTAs even convened meetings to discuss the evils of the polymer. But people look for targets, and they see mounds of plastics in their grocery bags. Those same people need to ask very different kinds of questions:
1) Do I really need all of this packaging that I’m using?
2) Where can I replace bleached paper and paperboard products with natural paper that uses no chlorine or hydrogen peroxide?
3) Are paper products really better alternatives to plastic?
4) What really is the most efficient and clean power source in the long run that deals with solid waste and global warming issues?
5) Am I willing to accept a lifestyle in which hydrocarbon-derived electricity and use of gas-powered cars is seriously curtailed? Or am I looking for easy solutions that are meaningless and about which I have no technical understanding?
There have been many legitimate issues raised about plastics over the years. Toxic metals were used as pigments and additives. Chlorine-containing plastics were not good choices for packaging.Urethanes foams need significant care. Plastics (and paper) packaging was and is used excessively for unnecessary consumer convenience.
Plastics—even those that are not realistically recyclable—provide enormous benefit to society that dramatically overrides the fact they should be incinerated in waste-to-energy plants. The most obvious example is barrier packaging used to keep meats fresh. I came across an Australian news report recently that pointed out another.
One of the very first plastics was a material called Bakelite (not recyclable) which was developed as a replacement for elephant tusks used to make billiard balls and other objects. It took the tusks from one elephant to make just eight billiard balls. One kilogram of plastic is equal to the tusks of 15000 elephants, according to the article.
If we had required all plastics to be recyclable, elephants would have been extent before Minnesota Fats ever touched a cue stick.
There’s a new post here about green strategy vs green hogwash. This is a good topic. From time to time, I will point out some examples of green hogwash, like plastics companies touting that a product is recyclable, when in fact there is no recycling stream and no hope of one. Or a product that is biodegradable, when in fact there is virtually no infrastructure for coping with biodegradable waste.
Who got me going on this? I want to write about technology.