So Much Plastic – How Did We Get Here?

Some of you may know that I have You Tube channel where I talk about plastics industry issues, really focusing on recycling.  My goal is to connect with the true consumers of plastic; the general public.  I firmly believe that with some knowledge, better environmental stewardship and recycling practices can be attained.

If you are interested in my channel, follow the link on my website.

For November, I recorded a three-part series discussing “how we got here” with our seemingly endless dependence on plastics.  Video topics included food/beverage packaging, plastic bags and plastic in the automotive sector.

When it comes to food packaging, truth be told, not much can match plastic for its low-cost, ease of manufacture, and light weight end product.  Actually, I would go so far as to suggest that reverting to glass or other means of packing would be a detriment.  The light weight of plastic containers support more efficient transport of good to market.  Stated another way, if you can filled a transport truck with 40,000 pounds of goods, you’d likely rather maximize the weight of product shipped, not the weight of the container holding the product.  Why put more trucks on the road to ship the same nominal amount of net-weight goods?  Think I’m alone in my opinion?  Search the internet and see what you come up with…

I have always maintained that plastics are a valuable resource that we need to use with respect; respect for their initial use and respect for their proper handling and recycling, post-use.  We need to ensure we have the industrial mechanisms in place to sort and recycle and the industrial base to purchase the recycled plastics for production purposes.

When it comes to plastic bags, I’m slightly less sympathetic; while still painfully efficient, the plastic bag offers a very limited lifespan before being re-purposed (typically as a household garbage bag of sorts).  While I am in favour of getting multi uses out of a plastic product, with bags, we might only see two to three uses before the bag breaks or ends up in landfill.  This is one instance where the reusable bag (made from woven plastic or cloth), that last for potentially years, is the better alternative.  For garbage bags at home, I prefer to use PLA-based bags that do breakdown much quicker than conventional polyethylene bags.  For a single use product, why not choose the one that best fits the application!

Lastly, when it comes to the auto industry, I think the use of plastics is a real success story!  Cost reductions, weight savings, parts count reduction, complex geometries – all possible with plastics.  As we transition to electric cars (maybe hydrogen eventually…who knows?), plastics will continue to play a key role.  While mechanically simpler, electric cars carry a very heavy battery pack on board.  Plastics help to keep overall vehicle weight in check.  And, let’s not forget that the auto industry practically invented recycling…the junk yard!

Think about your consumption of single-use plastics, recycle everything you can and, as always, get out there and protect your playground!