It is easy to become so obsessed about a single issue that you glom on to anything you believe supports your position. As a writer who has written endless posts on plastic recycling over the years, I have run across plenty of people obsessed with the idea of ridding the world of plastic once and for all. The most obsessed among them will use anything to bad-mouth the plastics industry.
A recent case in point is a Wired post that attempts to turn East Palestine, OH train derailment into a plastics problem. One of the key lines from the post clearly points out that we “know full well…how to keep trains from exploding and burning up vinyl chloride.” The post then goes on to say that “we just have to make less plastic.”
Accidents Will Always Happen
The implication of the piece is that what could arguably be one of the worst train wrecks in U.S. history would not have been nearly as disastrous if we weren’t making plastics. It is a nonsensical argument on its face. Plastics didn’t cause the problem. It was an accident. And as long as humans populate the Earth, accidents will happen.
Once the accident occurred, the chemical spill and resulting fire were the results of poor transportation choices. They were the result of bad infrastructure, poorly designed tankers, and a whole host of other issues that had nothing to do with the chemicals themselves.
The anti-plastics crowd lives in a fantasy world born of a complete misunderstanding of how plastics have transformed the modern world. There is no other manufacturing material known to man that has had a greater impact on each and every human life. None. Furthermore, compared to the sheer volume of plastic produced over the last 100 years, the amount of harm caused by it is negligible.
Improving Systems Are a Better Move
The late Rush Limbaugh used to talk about opposition to fossil fuels from a unique perspective. He argued that eliminating fossil fuels would never happen. And if it somehow did, the world would be reduced to living like people living in the pre-industrial era.
Limbaugh posited that trying to eliminate fossil fuels was a waste of time. However, developing better systems for producing fossil fuels and cleaning up our messes afterward was well worthwhile. He cited countless examples of how human ingenuity was capable of cleaning up the worst industrial messes to the point of not knowing they ever existed. He was right.
The same thinking applies to plastics. Believing the world will someday eliminate plastic is simply foolish. It is never going to happen. So rather than putting time and effort into trying to accomplish the impossible, we should be pouring more energy into developing better systems for manufacturing, utilizing, and recycling plastic.
Where There Is a Will
We are all familiar with the old adage that says, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’. It applies to the plastics industry. If you need evidence, look no further than Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics. They are just one of many companies around the nation that successfully recycles industrial scrap plastic without any harm to the environment.
No doubt we can make plastics better for the environment. We can develop safer systems for transport. We can figure out ways to be more careful with chemicals like vinyl chloride. The unfortunate thing is this: no matter how hard we work to prevent accidents like the Ohio train derailment, there will always be those looking for any reason to bad-mouth the plastics industry.