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Plastic Is Just as Destructive to the Climate as Oil and Gas

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/05/31/plastic-just-destructive-climate-oil-and-gas

In nature, every structure has a natural process waiting to reduce and recycle it into components that the local ecology can use. The organic chemists, of which my father was one, who have developed many ephemerally useful products never considered such recycling, as little was known about the environmental impacts of synthetic organic compounds. Now that these impacts are increasingly known there can be no moral society that fails to further understand and address them. Pollution, poverty, climate change, etc. all call for radical solutions that are countercurrent to existing market ideology which allows, and furthermore encourages, such issues to be externalized by the decision making processes. Yet we live on a finite planet. You’ve already done the math. “They” won’t. Conflict with “them” is not optional; it is mandatory. Bernie 2020!

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As someone who lives at the epicenter of a new massive shale-fracking-driven expansion of the plastics industry - and soon to be cancer alley of the north (while recycling programs are being massively curtailed, of course) I have become very aware of the incredible problem that plastics - specifically the absurd amounts of plastic food and consumer product packaging.

But unfortunately, plastics are also a problem that the consumer us utterly helpless to change - because, we simply are not given any choice except plastic packaging. Ok, there is glass - but none of it is recycled where I live either.

Laws need to be passes that make the business packaging their stuff in plastic responsible for assuring their packaging is not released to the environment. The EU already has such laws.

Sorry, frackers and ethane-crackers - you’ll have to find another line of business…

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It’s past time that plastics recycling is taken to new heights. Like mandatory. If you are found to have tossed your plastics in the garbage you get a 500 dollar fine for a start.

At this time, most of our recycling becomes garbage in the end. We recycle so badly that it’s unusable. China–where exploited, poor laborers once could be induced to laboriously and hazardously separate and clean the messes we delivered–won’t take it anymore. Our unwanted recycling is clogging ports. Recycling companies are telling us to just throw stuff away if we can’t be bothered to recycle correctly because incorrect recycling escalates cost inefficiencies. We leave recycling at the curb; then, it’s trucked away and becomes regular garbage. Who do we fine for that?

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If you insist on being dependent on Hydrocarbons the effect is for all to see.

Dependence is Humanity’s Achilles Heel.

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We get the fossil fuel companies to pay for their externalities ,put them all out of business as the costs they have externalised to the Earths eco system are mammoth.
The pollution,cancers ,air,water and chemical spills are killing us all.

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You have identified the correct path. Getting them to pay is the crux of the issue, as in how do we turn a plutocracy into a democracy and redistribute wealth and power from those with all the wealth and power and a pathological determination not to relinquish a damned penny? The answer, of course, is revolution, and there’s no such thing as a peaceful revolution. Who’s up for that?

Plastics do not biodegrade.
They break apart into tinier and tinier pieces, but it’s all still plastic.
Plastics are forever.

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I’ve tried like hell over the last few years to avoid plastic – it’s damn near impossible.

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I have had the same problem, but I keep trying. You know, 100 years ago, nothing came
in plastic. It may be time to revive older technologies. For example, when I worked part-time at a medium-sized “mom-and-pop” grocery store (1962-1964) while in High School, all soft drinks were sold in reusable, returnable, sturdy glass bottles. Customers paid a small deposit on these, which would be refunded upon return. The bottles would be separated by store workers (me), into wooden crates, picked up by the appropriate route delivery truck, and returned to the local bottling plant to be sterilized by steam and hot water, refilled, and sold again and again.

I realized the common-sense efficiency and beauty of this many years ago

Normally produced plastics are very very long lived. I don’t see any solution for plastics in the way that we use them now. In my mind we need a highly regulated split where some plastics that we can’t find substitutes for must be recycled or landfilled in a more expensive way as the toxic waste that it is and this cost must be assigned at production, and all other plastic use including all use in the food industry must be converted to truly biodegradable formulations. This should not be impossible and though I know a lot of companies are bullshitting on how biodegradable their product is, I suspect that a) solutions exist now - they are just more expensive and require more adjustment as the product won’t mimic exactly the plastic counterpart and b) future solutions can be found if we force the market to do more R&D on this front.

I look around every now and then for true progress on this front - I recently saw https://bioplasticsnews.com/2019/05/30/can-plastic-be-biodegradable-new-study-suggests-the-jury-is-out/ which calls out a particular company in India that looks interesting: https://envigreen.in/.

Plastics are like a lot of problems we have: 1) we can’t depend on consumer decisions to solve the problem, 2) we can’t depend on corporations to solve the problem without prodding, 3) we can depend on corporations to attempt to influence politicians so they don’t have to solve the problem. Voters need to demand change on political reform in general and in driving for a better environmental world in particular. I hope the next generation can do better because I don’t think I’ll live to see the type of world I hoped for as a kid.

The guy who started the company in India is only 25 years old - maybe there is reason to be optimistic about future generations:

Here in Michigan, aluminum cans and glass bottles are sold with a 10 cent deposit, the highest in the country. And it works:

http://ubcrllc.com/how-the-system-works/

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It was more like jsut 50 years ago, when I was a kid, almost nothing came in plastic. It was all in either returnable, refillable bottles (pop, beer and milk - the latter delivered to an an aluminum box at your front door. Almost everything else was paperboard and waxed paperboard. Soda-straws were paper and worked fine. Up until the early 00’s, I was still able to buy various brands of beer in refillable deposit bottles. Now there is only one - possibly in the whole USA - Straub Brewing (If you are not from W. PA, I’m sure you never heard of it).

Plastics have a place in durable goods (but should still be 100 percent recycled) Plastic packaging is a classic case of contrived, manufactured demand of a product in the total absence of actual need or consumer demand for the product in order to prop up a massive lucrative industry. In this particular case, the industry that needs propping is the shale gas industry which provides the raw material for most plastics. Fracking has created a supply of natural gas far, far above and real demand and also requires that gas prices stay high because fracking is expensive. So they are desperately creating totally rigged demand for their product - mostly an export market, efforts to promote natural as vehicle fuel (the latter not very successful) and especially, plastics!

Poor Mayor Peduto! Even as he is trying to turn Pittsburgh into a high-tech San Francisco of the Rust Belt, far more powerful people have Baton Rouge or the Houston Ship Channel of the Rust Belt in mind.

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Yes, it does work. It always did. Corporate giants such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle, et al. much prefer single-use, throwaways. Unfortunately, most state legislators and governors will never go against the wishes of the sociopathic corporations. especially in
the Republican-controlled Southeast where I live.

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