It’s Time to Get Smart With Plastic

Let’s be realistic, we are not going to stop using plastic. It can’t be un-invented, and even the most die-hard environmentalist would not want a world completely free of plastic.

Why?

Because without plastic we have no electronics other than very basic lighting and heating.

No computers. No phones.

None of the smart machines that help to keep us alive in hospital.

Forget aircraft, other than the wood, glue, wire, string and cross-your-fingers ones of the beginning of the 20th century. They’d be propeller-driven and trips to the other side of the world would be a thing of the past, other than for the very rich with lots of time on their hands.

Although that brings up another environmental question altogether, of course.

IMGP2288

No, I don’t know why I chose this picture either.

What we do need to do is to get smart with how we use plastic, and what we use it for.

Most importantly, single use plastic bags should go. Period. So should all plastic bottles. Just getting rid of those items would cut plastic waste enormously.

We should return to using paper to wrap food products, and linen or paper bags to carry them.

This would limit what could be shipped long distances, and our choices, but we need to accept that.

There will still be those who say ‘I demand freshly picked paradiddles from the rain forests of the Antarctic and I don’t care about the environment!’ but society has to learn to say ‘Well, you can’t have them!’

But might we be able to have our cake and eat it?

Or even our paradiddles?

Possibly…there are already excellent alternatives to plastic bags, in the form of bags made from corn-starch, which is similar to the plastic ‘traditional’ plastic bags are made from, but really is bio-degradable. In fact, they are bio-compostable, which is one step up from being merely bio-degradable, in that they break down into carbon dioxide and organic matter only. This means that to get rid of them you simply chuck them on your compost heap and they break down rapidly. * but see below

There are disposable cups, food storage containers and much more already in use. And even the thickest items, such as corn-starch cutlery, take only 6 months to decompose once thrown away.

Why is there not a greater push towards using these worldwide?

Dare I suggest vested interests?

 * I am now adding a rider to this!

It seems I didn’t do my homework thoroughly on this one. There are problems in disposing of corn-starch polymers in that they have to be separated out from all other plastics, which is totally impractical since they look much the same, and cannot be sent to landfill sites. And if mixed in with ‘normal’ plastics, they contaminate them and prevent their being re-cycled.

Pah – I thought it all seemed too simple!

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28 thoughts on “It’s Time to Get Smart With Plastic

  1. My sister’s college has a simple, color-coded system for recyclables, to deal with the different types of plastics. It’s one more bin, but it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable obstacle. Even those of us with liberal arts degrees can probably cope! 😏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That end of the system sounds good, Robert, but what happens next? Is it still separate after being collected? Too often in the UK we separate out various recyclables which then get all chucked into the same truck when they are collected.

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      1. Well, at the college at least, it’s all being recycled properly. There are composting bins and a college vegetable garden. But I know what you mean, I’ve worked in offices where the staff dutifully sort paper vs. plastic, etc. and then the cleaning crew tosses it all into the same dumpster. Aluminum is a success, but there’s a glut of cardboard, apparently, because China is no longer buying it by the boatload, and the low prices for oil and nat’l gas gives less incentive for recycling plastics. I think banning plastic grocery sacks is one “do-able” step in the right direction.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, banning the plastic grocery bags is a success story everywhere it’s been rolled out so far. I think the next step must be to tackle the excess of plastic packaging on virtually all food.

          I don’t see the cardboard as too much of a problem, just because it will happily compost down if it’s not recycled. It won’t be hanging around for the next few million years like the plastic.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. A classic question – who will bell the cat? Everyone wants to contribute to environmental conservation but no one likes the inconvenience it brings! Which is a major reason why even nations are running away from this responsibility! And then there is a fear that this will curtail economic activities and therefore taxes! so we come to the classic question again!

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    1. In our capitalist world I sense the answer lies in making it commercially worthwhile to find alternatives. If it could be made cheaper to use alternative materials, plastic would soon fall out of favour!

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  3. Around here, everything goes into the county burner which burns at a high enough temperature to break down toxic chemicals. The waste heat is then used to generate electricity.

    Now only if we can get that plastic out of the ditches and into the burner.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s not a simple problem is it? Very complex but it’s something that all the governments of the world should be focusing on right not. Plastic carrier bags and single use bottles could be banned tomorrow and the world wouldn’t stop. Someone needs to be brave.

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  5. This is such an important issue, Mick. We need to keep working on solutions. One of my frustrations is the ridiculous amount of heavy plastic packaging for items that already are–or could be–in simple light cardboard containers. Merely getting into that packaging is a major challenge, and then disposing of it–even in the recycling–seems excessively wasteful. When are we going to recognize what we’re doing to this planet?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It needs to start with the manufacturers, Mick – and they’re not going to stop manufacturing while there’s a need. The plastics that really wind me up are the food containers that supermarkets use and that companies seal their goods into (think batteries, for instance). Then local councils need to recycle everything, not just specific plastics. Our local one refuses to recycle any plastic bags, won’t accept anything unless it has the recycle symbol and number on each item – so all that just goes into landfill. When the last council elections were being canvassed, the woman who – unfortunately – got in, came to our house and I demanded to know what she’d do about all this if she got in. She just hummed and hawed and mumbled something about having to divert funds. Which f course, she’s not done.

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    1. It does, Val. The best way of disposing of unnecessary packaging is not to produce it in the first place. As you say, they will produce it to meet demand, so if that demand can be reduced then so will the packaging.

      It’s also that old saying – educate people. There is an expectation today that everything will be packaged to remain perfect. For years the advertisers have been convincing everyone that (e.g.) fruit must be perfectly shaped, unbruised, and with no blemishes, otherwise we couldn’t possibly eat them. I was amazed some twenty years ago when my step-daughter picked a near perfect apple out of the bowl and lobbed it in the bin. ‘There’s a mark on it,’ she said. ‘I can’t eat that!’ This is why we have the ludicrous situation where one or two fruit sit in a polystyrene tray and are covered in plastic film. I know I’m showing my age, but there’s no reason they can’t be bought loose.

      And local governments will only take real action when held to account. It’s a coincidence, but I’m giving a cautious welcome to yesterday’s government proposals on the subject. It sounds like a start.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree, it’s time to be much smarter about our use of plastic (although I do need my plastic poop bags. I am not picking that stuff up in paper bags, or reusing a poop bag either!) But there are so many areas where other substances can be substituted for plastic. And I honestly think the time has come to try to find something that actually does get rid of plastic in an environmentally safe way. Because even if we ban all plastic tomorrow, we still have to deal with all the plastic we already have that is floating around in the ocean. Good post, Mick!

    Liked by 1 person

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