Plastic Isn’t Going Away – How Can We Manage It Better?

It is easy to read news stories about tons of plastic waste being carelessly discarded and get all worked up to the point of sincerely wanting the government to ban plastic altogether. In fact, I have read plenty of blog posts and newspaper opinion pieces stating that very thing. But the reality is that plastic isn’t going away. Therefore, our focus ought to be on how we can better manage it.

Plastic is arguably the best manufacturing material humanity has ever come up with. We can do things with plastic that cannot be done with any other manufacturing material. Plastic is so versatile that it has pretty much permeated every aspect of modern life. If you don’t believe that’s true, just walk around your house and write down every item you see that has even an ounce of plastic in it. I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the results.

Why We Love Plastic So Much

No doubt some people despise plastic. They consider it one of the worst evils perpetrated by mankind. But I suspect most of us don’t feel that way. We demonstrate by our consumer choices that we actually appreciate plastic a lot. You might even say we love it as a culture. But why? I have a few suggestions:

  • It’s Cheap – If nothing else, the modern culture appreciates access to cheap consumer goods. But we only enjoy such cheap goods because plastic is so cheap to make. Plastic keeps retail prices in check.
  • It’s Versatile – Because plastic is so versatile, it is equally useful in building everything from cell phones to car parts to food containers.
  • It’s Durable – Plastic’s durability is unrivaled by other manufacturing materials in similar form. Plastic is built to last, which is why it works so well for manufacturing all sorts of things.
  • It’s Sanitary – Plastic does not make a good home for bacteria because it’s nonporous. Is it any wonder that food manufacturers are all for plastic packaging? Indeed, if it were not for plastic there would be no such thing as a supermarket.

Plastic waste can be problematic. Any type of waste can. But the problem with plastic waste is not plastic itself. It is how we use and dispose of it.

There Are Workable Solutions

Much of the current call to abandon plastic is rooted in the failure of municipal recycling programs. But truth be told, there are workable solutions to plastic waste. One look at how post-industrial plastic waste is recycled tells the story.

Down in Memphis, TN, a company known as Seraphim Plastics purchases and recycles industrial scrap plastic in seven states. They can make money doing with postindustrial plastics what municipal recycling programs cannot do with postconsumer plastics. But the type of plastic is irrelevant to their success. It is the process that matters.

Seraphim and other industrial plastic recyclers utilize a simple and cost-effective process that turns plastic trash into a marketable product. Making it work requires that the companies Seraphim buys plastic trash from do their part to keep costs in check. Sellers gladly do so in exchange for the ability to cash in their trash rather than throwing it away.

Imagination and Innovation

The point being made here is that the plastic trash problem we have only exists because we have not yet found a solution. Solutions are out there and waiting to be discovered. We just need to employ a bit more imagination and innovation.

Plastic isn’t going away. So we either keep generating and tossing plastic waste or we figure out how to better manage it. I know which option I prefer.

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