I just finished reading a rather lengthy piece published on the MIT Technology Review website. It was all about plastic pollution and how the average consumer doesn’t understand the scope of the problem. Nothing in the piece surprised me. I have read it all before. But this time, I was left wondering if all the plastic doom and gloom is just more of the same.
More of the same what? The same doom and gloom I’ve been hearing since I was a child. It is easy to create crises and make predictions. It’s easy to draw up scientific papers citing all sorts of data that cannot be verified. It is easy to make predictions that sound alarming now but will be forgotten 20 years down the road.
Based on so many doom and gloom predictions I have heard throughout my lifetime, I am highly suspicious of the so-called plastics problem. I’m not convinced that plastics are destroying the planet. I am not convinced they are harming human health; that they are slowly killing us while we drink our Coke and eat our take-out.
Do You Remember Global Cooling?
I am in my late 50s. The first doom and gloom prediction I can remember dates to the 1970s, when I was in middle school. I vividly remember me and my classmates being warned that a new Ice Age was coming. Our pollution was blocking the sun and putting the Earth on a collision course with ice.
We were told that the new Ice Age would be upon us within a decade. The only way to avert certain catastrophe was to stop driving cars and start recycling. Otherwise, the planet would be covered with ice by the time we were old enough to marry.
That obviously did not happen. More importantly, science came up with global warming when it was apparent that global cooling was never going to happen. It was the same doom and gloom all over again. Only this time, it would be the heat that killed us rather than the cold. Yet despite so many predictions, including those of former Vice President Al Gore, global warming has turned largely into yet another fantasy.
When global warming did not happen as planned, we changed the terminology. Now it is climate change. But it’s the same recycled gloom and doom all over again. Just ask Greta Thunberg. If humanity doesn’t drastically change the way it operates, we are destined to die from climate change.
And Now It’s the Plastic Doom and Gloom
Climate change is a pretty weak argument in and of itself. So to give it weight, we create all sorts of crises then claim said crisis contribute to it. That is where the plastic problem comes in. Plastic is only contributing to the damage being done to the planet by climate change.
Meanwhile, Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics is just one of many companies that make good money recycling industrial scrap plastic. Their business works because it is based on a sound business model. If we apply what they do to post-consumer plastic waste, we discover the real problem with plastic recycling: lazy people. Consumers would rather throw plastic on the ground than make a genuine effort to recycle.
I don’t deny that plastic litter is a problem. But the problem is not plastic, it is people who litter. We can solve the problem by changing our behavior. We don’t have to ban plastic or start packaging food in fungus wrappers to prevent plastic from finding its way into forests and streams. But changing our behavior doesn’t work for the doom and gloom crowd.