My Response to Fake Plastic Fish: What Is Plastic Good For?

>> Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I have a dirty little secret to tell you...My dad works for the plastics industry. He's an accountant at a plastic bottle plant for a large plastics company.

Here's another little secret...I worked at that plant for a year when I was in college. Yes, I have made many, many, many plastic bottles.

So when I read about (and even write about) the problems with plastic, I really weigh the pros and cons of the issue. My dad's job is involved. And because of that, I think I end up being a little less extreme than some so-called anti-plastic bloggers.

To be honest, I think extremity in any form hurts a cause more than helps it. And that's why I've been intrigued to read Fake Plastic Fish's back and forth discussion with a plastics industry insider. Both of them have presented their arguments rationally and without finger-pointing, and surprisingly, they believe many of the same things. This kind of discussion gets me excited because I think it's through this kind of finding-a-common-ground dialogue that real progress can be made.

In her post yesterday, Fake Plastic Fish posed several questions about plastic. Here are my answers:

What do you see as the major problems with plastic?

Wastefulness. Somehow, we've decided that plastic, more than any other non-biodegradable material, is disposable. So we use endless numbers of plastic bags, plastic cups, plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, plastic packaging, etc. Why on earth would we think that something primarily made of a nonrenewable resource that does not biodegrade could be called disposable!

Disposal. I doubt I'd see plastic as such a problem if I hadn't seen all those pictures of dead birds and turtles with plastic-filled stomachs. And after reading Cradle to Cradle, I've come to the conclusion that all plastic should be fully recycled, and if it can't be, it shouldn't be made.

Health. This is a minor reason for me - as I've mentioned before, I tend to tune out when people start taking about how something is bad for my health. Everything is bad for our health. But when it concerns my children, I adopt a "better safe than sorry" attitude.

What uses for plastic (if any) are necessary and beneficial to society?

There are so many beneficial uses for plastic. Health and safety are probably the main ones for me. But honestly, I can't see how they could make most of the items we use everyday without plastic.

Would you like to see a world without any plastic at all? What would that look like?

I don't think it's necessary to have a world without any plastic at all. What we need are better designed products, better produced plastics, and a better recycling system. We also need to eliminate the idea of plastics as disposable. No more one-time-use plastics! And if plastics are used as packaging, they should be compostable or biodegradable (and there should be systems set up so they can be composted).

Do you trust the plastics industry to tell you the truth about their products? Why or why not?

No. I don't trust any industry to tell me the truth. They're in business to make money, and if telling the truth will hurt their bottom line, they're not going to tell the truth. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll lie (though many industries do). But there might be some truth-stretching and some truth-hiding.

Do you trust the American Chemistry Council to tell you the truth?

I don't know anything about the American Chemistry Council, so I can't answer this question.

What questions would you ask a plastics professional if you could?

What steps are you taking to solve the problems with plastic?
What will it take for the plastics industry to decide to change?

What role do you think the plastics industry should play in solving the environmental problems associated with plastic?

I would love if the plastics industry played a major role in solving the plastic problem, but only if they're going to do it for the right reasons and in the right ways. If the plastics industry is going to get involved, I want to see real solutions. Like plastics that don't leach harmful chemicals into our foods. Like plastics that are fully recyclable in a cradle to cradle life cycle, or plastics that are truly compostable or biodegradable.

Beyond the plastics industry, I'd like to see other businesses making smarter decisions. Like designing good products that last and can be recycled when their lives are over. Like truly weighing the environmental effects of different materials and choosing the best material, not just the cheapest. Like minimizing or eliminating plastic packaging. Like more opportunities to buy food and personal care products in bulk.

What else would you like to share?

Plastic is just one aspect of our overall waste problem, and I am convinced that the most important thing we can do to combat waste is consume less. Buy less, use less, reuse, and repair. And then recycle.

Photo by Shazari

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Fake Plastic Fish July 9, 2009 at 1:11 AM  

Thank you for your thoughtful answers. I've always maintained that it's our overconsumption that is the real problem. And even Captain Charles Moore has said that our plastic pollution problem is the visible symbol of our crisis of over overconsumption. The plastic didn't make the problem. We made the plastic and have been misusing it terribly!

Green Bean July 9, 2009 at 12:11 PM  

Great post. I tend to agree with you on most of your points. Moderation is key. Single use should be avoided. Etc.

I also tend to ignore warnings re health. Everything causes cancer these days. Of course, I am concerned enough that I've gotten rid of most plastic in the kitchen.

Finally, I would like to see changes made where not only are plastics compostable - with systems in place to make them easily compostable- but where the manufacturing process emits very little waste or pollution.

Carrie July 9, 2009 at 2:55 PM  

this is a fascinating post! my last job was at a company that created the printing plates for other companies that were printing plastic bags (like for bagged lettuce, etc). i worked there for almost two years before i was fed up with contributing to the use of plastic bags for things that didn't need to go in plastic bags. i'm still working in the printing industry but at a company that prints labels on (mainly) paper for (mainly) wine which legally needs at minimum a label so i don't feel like i'm contributing so much to waste anymore

Maren Hansen July 9, 2009 at 5:44 PM  

I totally agree about overconsumption. It's amazing how much we take for granted as we go about our lives having been saturated and raised in a consumer-driven society.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper July 9, 2009 at 9:12 PM  

@Fake Plastic Fish - I posed the first few of your questions to my dad, and when I asked if he thought plastic was a problem, he said no. I said, "What about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?" He said, "I've never heard of it." I explained what it was, and he asked how the plastic got there. "Some of it is from littering," I said. He responded, "Well, I don't litter" and walked away. No offense to my dad, who is awesome, but that is so frustrating! It's no wonder we have a plastics problem!

@Green Bean - Good point about manufacturing. So many things about our consumer-driven society need to be completely revamped.

@Carrie - Thanks! Good for you for getting out of a job that went against your principles.

@Maren - Totally agree, and sometimes even being aware of it, it's so hard to resist consuming!

Cherie August 4, 2009 at 11:19 AM  

Erin - I just discovered your blog and like what I see so far. I'm going to have to spend some time reading through your posts later this week. It's even better to see that you're not far from me - I live outside of Danville, VA - and seem to have many of the same interests. I've added your blog to my favorites and will probably be linking to you on my blog. Keep up the good work!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper August 4, 2009 at 2:44 PM  

@Cherie - So glad you're enjoying the blog! I took a look around your blog and website. Looks like you're doing a great job with your sustainable farm, and I'd love to hear more about it!

cheap viagra April 13, 2011 at 2:31 PM  

I think plastic is a serious problem if we don't recycle them because bottles have toxic components which aren't biodegradable, we have to take this into account in order don't damaging the environment and the ecosystem.m10m

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