Plastic is Forever: Why That’s Good!

Plastic is Forever: Why That’s Good!

Anthony Zolezzi examines why plastic isn't the enemy; we are.
tweet me:
For years, we've been told plastic is the enemy. Really, we should be celebrating plastic. Here's why.
Friday, April 16, 2010 - 9:43am


I want to talk about something that deeply divides us in the green community: plastic. Be warned, I’m going to make some arguments that a lot of people aren’t going to like. But first let me explain where I’m coming from. I play a behind-the-scenes role at Greenopolis most of the time, but today I’m driven by the need to correct what I believe are significant misconceptions of what’s environmentally friendly and what isn’t when it comes to packaging. I can speak with some authority on these issues. I spent a good part of my career working in the practical aspects of environmental issues.

Here’s my point: We should be "celebrating plastic" and valuing it properly. Plastic is not the enemy, it’s how we use and abuse it. You heard me - this is no typo. “Closed-loop”, cradle-to-cradle systems that recover and reuse plastic are a much better option than food-based packaging. If we could recover and reuse all the plastic we have right now, the very things that we hate about it would become its strengths. Imagine building a house with a material that will last for a thousand years and can be reused at the end of its life. Imagine instead of storing oil in reserves, that our houses and products could themselves become storage mechanisms for oil. Plastic can be reconverted back into oil, and being lightweight, plastic saves nearly half of the energy it takes to transport glass. Plastic can have multiple lives, ranging from food containers to building materials.

Imagine if we took the time and energy to understand what a valuable, precious, useful material plastic is and recovered it like we recover gold. We would save billions of barrels of oil, eliminate billions of pounds of carbon, clean up our oceans -- and be storing and saving fossil fuel energy for future generations. Capturing, recycling, reprocessing and reusing plastic is the answer. Instead of bashing the plastic water bottle, let’s make sure it’s plastic that has been recovered and re-used.

There, I said it. Plastic is good. I’m no diplomat, but I want us to take a deeper look at these issues, rather than fall into knee-jerk reactions and “conventional wisdom”. I’ll be saying more about this in future blogs. But in the meantime, let’s debate this subject. We can all learn more, and I welcome the challenge . . . is dedicated to our users. We focus our attention on changing the world through recycling, waste-to-energy and conservation. We reward our users for their sustainable behaviors on our website, through our Greenopolis Tracking Stations and with curbside recycling programs.