It is pretty chic to hate plastic these days. If you are a politician, it is incredibly easy to target manufacturers for financial penalties in order to make it appear as though you’re concerned enough about the environment to eliminate plastic. If you are a consumer, it is easy to blame plastic for all the environmental ills you see around you. But if plastic is as bad as it’s made out to be, why has it survived for so long?
Few would argue that careless waste disposal is a good thing. Few would argue that we should just throw our plastic trash wherever it’s most convenient. Plastic waste doesn’t belong in waterways or city sewers. But at the same time, plastic doesn’t qualify as the world’s biggest evil just because human beings don’t want to make the effort to dispose of it properly.
At any rate, plastic has survived because it is extremely hard to replace. Here are five reasons explaining why:
1. It’s Lightweight
One of plastic’s chief advantages over other manufacturing materials is its weight. It is extremely light compared to other options. Moreover, manufacturers don’t have to compromise on durability and integrity. A plastic food container is just as durable as a glass one, maybe more so when you consider how easily glass shatters. In terms of weight and strength, plastic is tough to beat.
2. It’s Cheap to Produce
Manufacturers are more than happy to make extensive use of plastic because it’s cheap to produce. We already harvest crude oil to produce gasoline, diesel, and other petroleum products. We might just as well turn some of that crude into plastics. It is fairly easy to do once you have a refinery operational.
By the way, cheap plastics lead to cheap retail prices. That’s big. Your average consumer isn’t willing to pay significantly more at retail just to get non-plastic packaging.
3. It’s Easy to Work With
Next up, plastic is easy to work with. It can be molded into just about any shape. Furthermore, you can do something with plastic that you can’t do with glass, paper, and other materials: vacuum seal it. Vacuum sealing is one of the reasons that plastic is so popular as a food packaging material.
4. It Can Be Recycled
The fact that most of the world’s plastics end up in landfills is not the fault of plastic itself. The blame lies in how we use plastic. The material is very recyclable, as evidenced by companies like Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics. Seraphim makes a tidy profit recycling industrial scrap plastic in seven states.
What makes industrial plastic recycling commercially viable is process. If we applied the same process to consumer plastics, recycling them would be just as viable.
5. Technology Depends on It
Even if all the other reasons for keeping plastic around were not enough to support it, this last reason can carry plastic all by itself: modern technology relies on it. Get rid of plastic and you also have to get rid of your cell phone, computer, and nearly all the other consumer electronics you take for granted. Ditto for electric vehicles and gasoline-powered cars with high mileage ratings. Steel and aluminum just won’t cut it.
A lot of people complain about plastic. They call for its complete elimination without thinking about the implications thereof. But a world without plastic would be a very different world.
Commercially viable plastics have been around since the early 20th century. In other words, it has been more than a hundred years since plastic came on the scene. It is not going away any time soon.