My job has me doing an awful lot of writing about plastics and recycling. All of that writing requires a ton of research. That said, I am continually amazed by all the vitriol produced by the anti-plastics crowd. They have absolutely nothing good to say about plastic, its manufacturers, or its prevalence in modern culture.
Here’s my position: plastic is a great material for manufacturing, packaging, and more. Let us accept that fact and move on. Instead of trying to eliminate what is arguably the best manufacturing material humanity has ever come up with, let’s take advantage of its many benefits while we find ways to reduce its impact on the waste stream.
We Have a Good Track Record
Humanity has a good track record of coming up with innovative solutions to serious problems. Let’s take fossil fuels and the pollution they generate. I have chosen this example for one reason: plastic is a petroleum product. Without fossil fuels, there is no plastic.
Back when I was a kid, fossil fuel pollution was such a serious problem that it made modern pollution seem like a walk in the park. Major cities were enveloped by smog. Cars running leaded gasoline pumped out unfathomable volumes of emissions. Heck, the Cuyahoga River spontaneously combusted one summer day in 1969 thanks to a dense oil slick floating on its surface.
We have come a long way in cleaning up that pollution. By today’s standards, fossil fuel pollution was a dumpster fire in the 1970s. But we buckled down and found ways to clean things up. And now, we enjoy all the benefits of fossil fuels while simultaneously limiting pollution. Why can’t we do the same thing with plastic?
Zero Pollution Is Impossible
Seraphim Plastics is a Tennessee company whose daily operations prove plastic recycling is possible. It’s not only possible, but it can also be profitable. Unfortunately, what they and other industrial plastic recyclers do isn’t good enough for that small but vocal group of people who won’t stop until all petrochemical products are outlawed.
There is a basic flaw in the premise of saving the planet by eliminating pollution: zero pollution is impossible. Likewise, zero waste is a goal that can never be achieved. Human activity always produces waste. It always pollutes. By the way, so does animal activity. Animal waste and pollution just exist in different forms. It is there, nonetheless.
Rather than wring our hands in fear while we search for ways to rid the world of pollution and waste, we would be far better off putting our efforts into minimizing it as much as possible – just as we have with fossil fuels.
Plastic Isn’t Going Away
Perhaps the best way to wrap up this post is to make it clear that plastic isn’t going away. First and foremost, it is terribly cheap to produce. Companies keep using it for that reason alone. And they should. Companies exist to turn a profit, not to spearhead whatever version of social justice happens to be popular at the moment.
Plastic is also flexible and durable. It keeps food fresher for longer, protects retail products from damage during shipping, offers a lightweight packing option that reduces fuel consumption during transport, and even provides for easier labeling when regulations require it.
There are far too many benefits derived from plastic to eliminate it as a manufacturing material. Let us just accept those benefits and then get on with finding ways to effectively recycle and reuse it. We have proven we can do it in other areas. So now let’s do it for plastic.