Having read just about all I can take of this anti-plastic stuff on social media I feel it my duty put things in perspective.
Plastic is good people. Look around you, look and see what is made of plastic and tell me that your life would be the same without it. It is an unimaginable useful and amazing material from pretty much every angle. I could list all the things that are made of plastic but we would be here a while.
Plastic has only one flaw
Us. We humans, via the processes of polymerisation and poly-condensation, create plastic out of natural and organic materials like coal, crude oil, natural gas and cellulose. It has helped us develop so many things that our lives would be virtually impossible to live as we know without it. Cars, clothes, houses, floors, furniture, the list is endless. So why are we humans the Achilles heel in this wonder material?
Simple. We can not be trusted to throw it away. The trouble is that plastic does its job too well. It keeps doing the job we designed it to do well after it’s no longer desirable. And we either don’t know what to do with it or can’t be trusted to put it in the right place (eg reuse it, recycle it or dispose of it properly).
Huge islands of plastic now concentrate and form in our oceans, the largest of them is now bigger than Germany. And why? Because it’s evil? No, because we throw it in the sea. Us.
Alternatives to plastic
Let’s deal with the top two things that often are touted as a ‘greener’ or more ‘eco’ than plastic.
Glass – is made by super-heating sand and, depending on what the desired outcome of the specific glass is to be, adding different compounds to it. Glass, like plastic, is everywhere and is often seen as the more eco of the two.
Recycling Glass – Back when recycling became a thing, glass was one of the first things we used to post in the green bins. The truth about recycling glass is that it is incredibly energy intensive. A kiln has to be used to melt the glass down to liquid state again, the temperature needed is 1700 degrees Celsius. The kiln takes so long to heat up that it is often cheaper to leave it on and at temperature even when it is not needed.
Question – where does the energy used to heat the glass come from? Coal? Nuclear? Gas?
Paper and Cardboard – is again used in extremely increasing numbers for packaging, if you can get your hands on recycled paper or cardboard then that’s ‘super-eco’ right? Well, maybe not.
Recycling Paper and Cardboard – The process of recycling paper and cardboard is again, taking the material back to basics, that in this case involves a huge amount of chemicals. Bleaches, dyes and other harmful agents that you would not want anywhere near your kids. The carcinogens which are given off during this process are less than ideal.
Plastic vs Paper – A True Story
A friend of mine works in the plastic industry, primarily in the recycling of plastic. As a side venture he makes recycled plastic surfboard fins. This man would be made of plastic if it were possible, he loves it, knows everything about it and is also on the cutting edge of how it can be developed further.
Upon developing the recycled plastic surfboard fin, (which is awesome by the way) he chose the most eco friendly packaging material he could find. Clear, recycled plastic. The fins did not sell, not at all. Why? Because people saw the packaging. He even had people telling him it was a shame he could not use a more eco packaging like recycled cardboard. He tried and tried to explain that his clear recycled plastic packaging was less harmful than the chemically recycled cardboard. It all fell on deaf ears and he did not sell his fins.
Feeling that he had to bow to popular demand he made some packaging with recycled cardboard, you know the brown earthy colour that screams ‘eco’. The fins flew out of the door, people started buying them and to this day they remain in that packaging.
We need to recycle plastic
Through a process known as ‘Heat Compression’ all types of plastic can be heated in a machine like a massive tumble dryer. They can then be used or remolded. This process is energy intensive but no where near that used to recycle glass.
What’s the drawback then? The problem is that you can not produce a specific colour as all the different waste plastics are not sorted before the process. What difference does colour make? I guess your new Ikea chair might not go with your wallpaper, or your new fleece (made out of plastic) might clash with your denim socks. Either way, it’s a consumer problem and not really worth polluting the planet over.
As I have alluded earlier in this article, we are the ones who need to step up our game as regards to putting the waste plastic in the correct place. Plastic is good, just make sure you put it in the recycling bin and not in the ocean, beaches, rivers or anywhere else.
We like to dub things as ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. Like guns for example. Guns (sure) are for killing but they don’t do it on their own. Humans operate them, guns are not evil, they are tools developed by humans for a reason (which may be evil). My laboured point is that instead of blaming inert objects, it might be more sensible to look inwards and ask what we can do every day to make this planet of ours a better place.
Thanks for sticking with me. Peace out. Maan...