“Plastic is light, easy to store and transport, comes in an endless variety of textures and shapes and can hold almost anything…. Unfortunately, plastic is much more difficult to recycle than materials like glass, aluminum or paper.” – Eureka! Recycling
The eco-snoops and lifestyle police don’t like plastic, the stuff of oil and gas. But the rest of the world lives by plastic–and benefits. The boom in feedstocks has produced a boom in plastic capacity. Reported Beth Gardiner for Yale Environmental 360 (December 19, 2019):
Companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Saudi Aramco are ramping up output of plastic — which is made from oil and gas, and their byproducts — to hedge against the possibility that a serious global response to climate change might reduce demand for their fuels, analysts say. Petrochemicals, the category that includes plastic, now account for 14 percent of oil use, and are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will double in the next 20 years.
Bottom line: “Since 2010, companies have invested more than $200 billion in 333 plastic and other chemical projects in the U.S.”
From beverage containers to combs, there are literally thousands of plastics in use at every level of economic life.
A Skunk at the Party
Enter the ‘Plastic Free July’ initiative sponsored by the Australian-based Plastic Free Foundation, whose purpose is to “work towards our vision of seeing a world free of plastic waste.”
Waste? By me? You? Who?
From the vantage point of the freely acting individual consumer, this is a ruse by nanny-state outsiders aiming to diminish, if not shut down, the plastics industry as part of the Green New Deal’s goal of keeping oil and gas in the ground.
In fact, plastics users (everyone) has choices and a budget constraint. Disposable plastics compete against lost time collecting and washing (and even buying) dishware and silverware. Throw-away is convenience versus washing non-disposable items. Littering (including ocean waste) is a separate issue that requires separate action from the production and use of plastics per se.
The PFF Pitch–and Recycling Issue
The Plastic Free Foundation’s latest annual report states (p. 4):
Plastic pollution is increasing and our recycling systems are being challenged. This makes waste avoidance more important than ever and we, as an organisation, have an important role in this.
Recyling itself should be on trial, not plastics. Unprofitable recycling indicates that more resources go into recycling than are saved by it. Think of the trucks (most diesel) that collect this trash and the energy and labor used to separate materials.
Even green groups decry recycling as greenwashing. “So why does recycling make us feel so damn good?” asks EarthDay.org. “Part of the problem, and persuasion, of recycling is the narrative developed to support it.” The whole story of today’s recycle predicaments is laid bare:
China was a booming manufacturing market and needed all the raw materials it could get, so the country took all our recyclables, regardless of quality. This demand, combined with China’s lax environmental regulations, shifted global recycling from multi-stream to single-stream. People put all their recyclables — glass, paper, plastics, food scraps, pizza boxes, Styrofoam, whatever — into one bin, which waste companies collected and sent to China for a hefty sum.
With all this plastic coming into China, trash islands popped up, waterways and oceans filled with plastics and animals made snacks out of bottlecaps and bags. Meanwhile, countries like the U.S. ignored it. They kept collecting whatever passed as recycling and shipping it to the other side of the world. Out of sight, out of mind.
Then China reversed course. The article continues:
That all stopped in 2018, when China, eager to address its environmental problems and improve its public image, abruptly banned plastic imports of anything with more than 0.5 percent contamination. America’s current recycling contamination levels are 25 percent, meaning one of four items in our recycling bins shouldn’t be there.
In other words, when China stopped accepting our poor recycling habits, we were left holding the trash bag.
What to do now? The eco-snoops want to regulate our usage to only “absolutely necessary” plastics. States End Plastics Pollution campaign manager David Ayer. “Everything else we have to cut off.”
After extensive consultation the Foundation created a new online platform for Plastic Free July 2019 to share resources, ideas, and stories and even better help people to reduce single-use plastic waste in their homes and communities.
Inbuilt evaluation tools help participants discover the plastics in their life and measure their success as well as allowing us to track the trends in the
common plastics that households use. We were proud to launch the Plastic Free July 2019 campaign on 1 July at Kings Park with Western Australian Environment Minister, the Hon Stephen Dawson MLC, who also pledged
his own personal plastic free challenge. Plastic Free July is a collaborative effort with participants not only changing their own behaviour and reducing waste but also making a difference in their communities.
Plastic waste? From the vantage point of the freely acting individual consumer–or from outsiders with an agenda of shutting down the plastics industry as part of a Green New Deal goal of keeping oil and gas in the ground?
A Capitalist Mission?
The Foundation’s annual report (p. 5) lists six core values:
Sounds good. And it just happens to be a perfect description of the free market.
Honesty, integrity, authenticity? The bourgeois virtues have been the basis of capitalism for more than two centuries.
Inclusiveness? Collaboration? The market welcomes all comers into mutually beneficial exchange.
Pragmatic solutions? Adding up small changes? Practicality and incrementalism are the hallmarks of business. Organizations and individuals who want to exercise and exemplify the virtues extolled above should consider trying capitalism.