Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Living without Plastics?

If you want to rid your life of plastics, it just can't be done short of moving to the wilderness and living off the land. (Just keep in mind that you will have gotten a huge start from polymeric materials already.) Many bloggers seem to be posting about there attempts to reduce plastic use, and some are getting news coverage.

There is more to plastics in modern life than is discussed in these reduction blogs. What I see missing can be put into three categories:
  1. Polymers that are "invisible" to the eye but still are there
  2. Polymers that are used by others in delivering goods and services
  3. Polymers that are used in more durable items

Let me expand on these items just a little bit. Don't even begin to think that this is a complete discussion.

  1. While the blog does note of the plastic in window envelopes, there is more plastic in her mail. Inks, pressure sensitive adhesives (most postage stamps) and any type of adhesive in general are all polymer based. The papers themselves could have a polymeric coating.
  2. Large amounts of plastic are used as secondary and tertiary packaging that the blogger never sees. Shrink-wrap on pallets, adhesives on secondary cardboard boxes...All of this is used to help ensure that products arrive at their destination without being damaged and having to be trashed. This is certainly something that a consumer has little or no control over, but it needs to be accounted for nonetheless....
  3. Durable goods made of plastics parts (computers, cars, washing machines...) should be included in the total even if included on some sort of amortization schedule. Not including these plastics is misrepresenting the whole situation, much like a company's financials can be improved in the short term by delaying needed investments and maintenance.

In the same way that a system is not optimized by optimizing each individual variable, attempting to improve living by going without plastics is nowhere a easy or as simple as it sounds. This link is just one example. And plastics certainly are not going away. The auto industry is being forced to use ever more plastics just to reach the improved mileage requirements.

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