As I’ve written here before, I always brace myself when I see a story about plastics in newspapers or consumer magazines, like Time or Newsweek. The articles are always simplistic and often erroneous. Plastic is always bad. It’s made from oil. Plastic trash lines our roads. It kills babies. It ruins the oceans. Etc.
What a surprise to read a report on plastics in last Sunday’s Boston Globe, one of the most liberal newspapers in America. The headline reads: ”In Praise of Plastic. Why an oil-sucking, landfill-clogging, non-biodegradable, it’s-everywhere material is so good for the environment. Really.”
The article states simple facts that plastics engineers have been saying for more than 20 years and virtually no one in the consumer media has listened to, or believed, I guess. For example, an author of an EPA study said that plastic packaging is better for the environment because it’s so much lighter than glass. “We were astonished, “said Frank Ackerman, an independent researcher. “Our guess was all wrong.” Several other examples are given. The article concludes that the real problem is that people won’t recycle products.
The wide-ranging report also looks at bioplastics, which I have long railed against as an environmental solution. The article correctly states that bioplastics will not compost in a landfill, and they foul commercial recycling streams. They also don’t break down easily in oceans or forests. “Strange as it seems, it’s better for the environment to reuse (as many times as possible) and then recycle a bag you already own,” states the article.
Wow. Someone is listening at last.
There are some errors in the article. The Dreamliner, for example, is not made from a type of acrylic. And I don’t agree with all of the conclusions. In my opinion, waste-to-energy is an excellent use for waste plastic, for example. The thermal value of a polyethylene plastic bag is significantly better than coal – and with no pollutants. This makes more sense to me than running up the recycling rate of plastic bags.