Plastic is, by far, the most used manufacturing material in the world. It has taken the place of glass, wood, metal, and other materials humanity has relied on throughout history. Unfortunately, the push is on to eliminate plastic due to its many downsides. But what would we replace it with? Is there any manufacturing material that does not have downsides?
The easy answer to that question is ‘no’. As much as fans of Utopia might want to find a risk-free replacement for plastic, no such material exists. Not even glass is risk-free. Every manufacturing material mankind has ever come up with has its pros and cons. Every manufacturing material we come up with in the future will as well.
Plastic’s Known Problems
Plastic’s downsides are well documented. Its known problems include a slow rate of degradation, its general contributions to pollution, and the fact that it is essentially a petroleum product. But plastic is not the demon is made out to be by the modern culture. Plastic’s positives outweigh its negatives by far.
For instance, one of the reasons food manufacturers use so much plastic in their packaging is the simple fact that plastic is sterile. It is also nonporous, meaning it doesn’t offer an environment conducive to bacteria. Food packaged in plastic doesn’t spoil nearly as fast as food packaged in other materials or left entirely open for that matter.
Plastic food packaging is what makes it possible for us to buy several weeks’ worth of food at the grocery store. Before there was plastic, people had to go to the market every day. They had to make separate visits to the butcher, baker, poulter, etc.
Glass Has Its Problems, Too
Glass is often touted as a better packaging material than plastic. Proponents cite several advantages, beginning with the fact that glass is essentially melted and compressed silica. And given that silica is a natural part of the Earth’s surface, glass is promoted as a sustainable and environmentally friendly material.
The petroleum that is used to make plastic is also a natural material and part of the Earth’s makeup. But that’s a different discussion for a different post. The fact is that glass has its downsides.
As explained by the BBC, glass production has a higher environmental impact than plastic, aluminum, and other materials used in bottling and food packaging. Mining large volumes of silica for glass production can lead to significant environmental damage. Topping it all off is that prolonged exposure to silica dust can lead to an irreversible lung disease that can eventually turn into respiratory failure.
Promote the Good and Address the Bad
It is easy for people who dislike plastic to demonize it. Likewise, it’s easy for me to counter plastic criticisms by bringing up the downsides of glass. We can all contribute to a constantly raging debate if that is what we want to do. But a wiser strategy is to look at all our manufacturing materials in context. We should promote the good and address the bad.
We can use and recycle plastic properly. Seraphim Plastics, out of Memphis, TN, proves it can be done. Likewise, we can manufacture and recycle glass responsibly. We can be responsible with every manufacturing material we have ever come up with.
There is no risk-free manufacturing material we can turn to. So rather than attacking plastic as one of the greatest evils of our day, let us find a way to address the negatives and take advantage of the positives – just like we have done with glass, wood, and other manufacturing materials. After all, fair is fair.