The Plastic Conundrum

created Jun 24, 2019

Plastic is strong and lightweight, but it's mostly based upon fossil fuels, and plastic does not biodegrade.

We take for granted how much we use and rely upon plastic in our daily lives, at least in the heavily developed parts of the world.

I wonder if the usage of plastic correlates with higher standards living, although what defines "standard of living?" Higher standards of living, more wealth, more development equals a lifestyle that is more destructive to the environment.

As we technologically progress, do we use more plastic? Do cultures with so-called lower standards of living use less plastic and live a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle?


Jun 15, 2019 - axios.com - Special report: Our plastic planet

Excerpts:

We have sipped, packaged and played our way into a global plastics crisis.

Why it matters: Activist consumer groups are pushing for less use, and to some extent, less production, while industry aims for increased recycling.

The big picture: Plastics demand is projected to only increase — and the footprint of plastic pollution with it.

Plastics made from oil and natural gas are an integral part of our daily lives, from cell phones to shipping materials to lifesaving medical devices.

Microplastics — bits of plastic less than 5 millimeters in length — have been found lurking in the deep waters off California, on otherwise pristine mountain peaks in the Alps and in the gastrointestinal tracts of sea creatures large and small.

It’s quite possible that, as a legacy of our consumer habits, each of us is consuming microplastics on a regular basis as well. What's not yet known is whether it's taking a toll on our health.

What's happening: There are calls to ban single-use plastics and force companies to rely less on petrochemicals.

Geyer's study projected that by 2050 about 12,000 million metric tons of plastic waste could be in landfills or the natural environment.

Globally, less than 20% of plastics were recycled in 2015. In the U.S., it's worse. Just 9% of plastics were recycled that year, according to the most recent data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Since most plastics come from fossil fuels, our plastics dependency is also exacerbating climate change.

A recent report from an environmental group found that by 2030, plastics-related emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year — equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.


Jun 17, 2019 - axios.com - Oil companies double down on plastics as public outcry grows

Excerpts:

The oil and gas industry is ramping up petrochemicals — building blocks of plastics —right as the global outcry intensifies over plastic waste.

The big picture: Most people associate oil companies' products mainly with gasoline. But they also generate plastics that are interwoven into all facets of our lives. This durable material is, more and more, leaving waste virtually everywhere on Earth.


Jun 24, 2019 - Hacker News thread - A Strange New Blend of Rock and Plastic Is Forming on a Portuguese Island (gizmodo.com)

HN comment:

So I wonder how much of a backlash against plastic will bring about other issues like bacteria.

Plastic has had a big advantage in ensure consumables and devices are clean but granted the cost has been high in the sense of pollution.


Jun 24, 2019 - toledoblade.com editorial - Drowning in plastic

(Good luck reading this opinion at the Blade's atrocious website. As a Blade digital subscriber, I use my own web reading app to read Blade articles. My web app displays Blade articles in a useful, simple, lightweight, fast-loading manner with no JavaScript, ads, trackers, and other crapware that exist at the Blade's website.)

Excerpts from the editorial:

Weary and wary of the grocery bags, water bottles, carry-out containers, disposable cutlery, drinking straws, and ear swabs that litter our parks, beaches, and oceans, the nations of the world are rousing themselves to eliminate this blight.

Experts warn, though, that this is a complex problem, both economically and environmentally.

From an environmental perspective, what materials use the fewest resources? Which create the smallest long-term consequences? How much depends on changeable human behavior?

Plastic bags — perhaps the most visible litter out there — actually use fewer resources to produce than paper bags, but they don’t break down for decades, possibly centuries. Paper products are biodegradable, but because we know this, we aren’t as diligent in recycling them.

Plastics of all kinds create massive floating islands in our oceans. Those that disintegrate end up in our seafood. Scientists still don’t know how this impacts human health.

... it is the developing nations that have the weakest waste-management infrastructure and dump the most waste into our oceans.

Domestically, plastic-bag manufacturers lobby to protect their industry, and legislators are sensitive to the possible loss of jobs. In 2017, such lobbying spurred Pennsylvania’s legislature to pass a ban on plastic-bag bans.

We can keep reusable grocery bags in our vehicles ...

It's good to see that the Blade editorial writer has caught up with thinking from last century.

Some businesses, such as Toledo's Phoenix Earth Food Co-op, have been advocating for reusable grocery bags for over 20 years. We have been taking our own cloth and nylon bags to the co-op for many years. And if I forget, the cop-op offers three choices for "grocery bags:" paper sacks, plastic bags, or cardboard boxes.

The co-op also offers many food and non-food products in bulk containers, which permits customers to bring their own containers to load up with peanut butter, coffee beans, loose-leaf tea, herbs, grains, nuts, dish soap, shampoo, etc.


Smartphones and Dematerialization (wired.com)

https://www.wired.com/story/iphone-environment-consumption/

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20320001

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