Need a hot topic for your next dinner party? Try discussing single-use plastics. Some people consider them the scourge of the Earth. Others think they are the greatest thing ever invented my humanity. Most people are somewhere in the middle. Nonetheless, we all have our opinions. Pose this question at your dinner party: could the world survive without single-use plastics?
It is a legitimate question given the fact that government leaders and regulators are actually starting to think in those terms. It could be that single-use plastics are completely gone a decade from now. The world would be a different place, that’s for sure. But would it be any less enjoyable?
Trying to understand a world without single-use plastics begins by asking why we utilize them right now. We know that consumers didn’t petition manufactures to start making single-use plastics. But we did encourage it once they started. We encouraged it by way of our buying choices.
We mostly utilize single-use plastics because they get the job done and they are cheap to produce. Remember that retail prices reflect the entire cost of getting a product into the hands of consumers. That includes the cost of packaging.
Single-use plastic packaging is dirt cheap. That influences retail pricing. If we are unable to find or design an equally cheap alternative, getting rid of single-use plastic packaging can only mean higher retail prices.
A bigger issue with single-use plastics is food packaging. Whether it is the packaging found in grocery stores, or the takeout packages utilized by restaurants, single-use plastics rule the day in food service. You almost never see certain kinds of foods packaged with any other material.
This is by design. Plastic makes it possible to package and seal food in an airtight manner. Combining packaging with preservatives increases shelf life considerably. And even without preservatives, the combination of plastic packaging and your freezer allows you to buy things like fresh meat, poultry, and fish weeks before you actually eat it.
Chances are the world could and would survive without single-use plastics. There are alternatives to everything. Consumer goods could be packaged in cardboard boxes and thick paper containers. Food could be packaged in glass and metal containers.
What many people do not consider is that eliminating single-use plastics will mean more dependence on other materials. You cannot get rid of one without increasing demand for another. That is just the way this works. So if we are going to eliminate single-use plastics, we need to be prepared to cut down more trees, produce more glass containers, etc.
A world without single-use plastics doesn’t necessarily mean a world without any plastic at all. Our lives are touched by all sorts of plastics that are not considered single use. Just think of your cell phone and computer. Think of your car. All around you, plastics are used to manufacture things you depend on every single day.
Even without single-use plastics, industrial plastic recycling would continue unabated. Companies like Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics would continue turning everything from pallets to buckets and PET bottles into regrind material for manufacturers. Phone makers would still make plastic cases and automakers would continue to rely on plastic to keep vehicle weight down.
The world could live without single-use plastics. Perhaps a more important question is whether we actually need to do so. That is open for debate. Some people believe single-use plastics are so dangerous that they must go. Others are not so convinced. Where do you stand on the issue?