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Why Does Going Plastic-Free Seem Like an Impossible Task?

by Kanne

Have you ever tried going entirely plastic-free in your daily life? And if so, how long did your efforts last? Completely eliminating plastic from one’s life may seem like a noble cause. But it doesn’t take long before it starts seeming like an impossible task. Why is that? Because it is.

Plastic is so pervasive in the modern world that it is hard for the average person to wrap their brain around it. Plastic is literally everywhere. We really cannot understate this reality. If any one of us decided to walk around the house and write down every fully-plastic or plastic-containing product, completing the task would likely take days. Most of us would still probably miss a few things.

Completely eliminating plastic would mean redesigning all those things. Many of them, like computers and cell phones, could not be redesigned in a feasible way. We would simply have to stop using them. The fact is that modern life runs on plastic. That is just the way it is.

Idealism Doesn’t Work Here

Idealism is a curious beast. It is not necessarily a bad thing as long as people understand that it’s usually not compatible with reality. Idealism, when it is too rigid, does not leave any room for flexibility. Furthermore, few things in this world are black and white. Idealism doesn’t work well with gray. It needs the black and white that is so lacking.

In an ideal world, we could eliminate plastic by turning to other manufacturing materials. But what materials could we use? Glass works well enough for food packaging. Paper and cardboard would work well enough for packaging non-food items. But what about those previously mentioned computers and cell phones?

The circuit boards inside them are plastic. Most of the components are plastic as well. You couldn’t simply substitute glass and paper and get away with it. It just will not work. So until we find other materials that do what plastic does for consumer electronics, we either need to keep using plastic or stop using electronics.

Plastic Isn’t the Problem

What idealism fails to recognize is that plastic is not the problem we face. There may be no problem at all, but let’s assume there is one for the purposes of this post. That problem is the volume of plastic we throw away. What is at the root of that problem? It is not what, but who. We consumers are the ones throwing plastic away so indiscriminately.

Human beings are drawn to convenience. We are prone to being lazy. We also like cheap consumer goods. In fact, when push comes to shove, we will buy the cheapest plastic product we can. We feed the demand for plastic through our choices. Manufacturers are simply responding to what we want.

The Problem Is Fixable

Assuming we have a legitimate problem with too much plastic being sent to landfills, it is a fixable problem. As evidence, consider commercial plastic recycling. It is a viable business that keeps tons of industrial scrap plastic out of landfills and incinerators.

Seraphim plastics is a Tennessee company that specializes in this sort of thing. They say it works because the companies they buy from are willing to make the effort. That effort is subsidized by Seraphim’s willingness to pay for scrap commercial plastic.

We consumers have very little incentive to do the same thing. No one pays us for plastic, so we are not willing to put in the work to recycle it. Instead, we talk about an ideal representing a nearly impossible task: going completely plastic-free. People who try it almost always discover it cannot work.

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