If we banned plastic tomorrow, what would that mean? What would the world look like?
Can we have a world without plastic? Well, we use plastic in a lot of products, often more than you can fathom from a few moments of thought. Within the office where this blog is being written, these are the plastic items I noted at a quick glance:
- Two plastic drink bottles (reusable)
- Plastic sanitizer bottle & pump
- Plastic milk bottle & cap
- Takeaway plastic food containers
- Office chair with plastic legs, arms and back
- Plastic wrap
- Zip lock plastic bags
Then I opened it up for discussion with the rest of the staff, here’s what else we found after much deeper thought and examination:
- Light switches
- Plastic footstool
- Power points
- Ornamental plants
- Air conditioning unit
- Computer cords
- Laptop casing & keys
- Desktop screens
- Ceiling light covers
- Reusable carry bags
- Cellphone & case
- Printer & printer cartridges
- Cellotape dispenser
- Scissor handles
- Window latches
- Ring binder
- Synthetic carpet
- Acoustic wall covering
- Office desk edging
- Wireless headset
Now, we truly could have gone on, but I trust you’ve got the point! There are differences between the two lists, the first is mostly made up of items that tend to get a lot of attention and are single use. The second includes items we’re surrounded by every single day but don’t tend to come up in plastic waste conversations because they’re not single use. Regardless of this fact, they are all very much plastic and not just one piece of plastic like for example single use plastic forks are, but many, many, many different pieces, sizes and complexities of plastic all stuck together!
Now that we’ve acknowledged how many plastic objects surround us day to day, let’s consider how products, like the ones listed above, came to be in our possession. These products aren’t just first order effects, it’s not just the plastic of the physical drink bottle to consider, that bottle had to be shipped to you, likely wrapped in other plastic packaging. Now, we can take this a step further again…the plastic bottle is wrapped in its plastic packaging, on a plastic pallet, transported inside a truck with plastic sides and plastic engine covers, mudflaps etc.…..again, the list goes on.
Now imagine what the world would look like if we waved a magic wand and got rid of plastic…
So much of what surrounds us every day and makes things work would simply vanish. Of course if there were no plastic milk bottles, we’d probably go back to aluminum or glass and if there we didn’t have plastic sunglasses we could go back to the steel/glass aviators from 1970. Plastic plants would be replaced with real ones, reusable bags could be woven out of flax (hopefully there’s enough) and the desk could be made solely out of wood. We can also assume many plastic bottles would be replaced with glass, but glass is heavier and takes a lot more energy to melt, so what would be the environmental consequences then? And if we don’t use glass, what’s strong enough to hold our carbonated beverages with co2 that creates the same amount of pressure held in a bike tire?
As you can see, the world as we know it without plastic is frankly impossible, there are countless ways we can improve but it’s not as simple as just removing the material from our lives. Even if we could commit to banning or replacing all plastic in say, twenty years’ time, it is still extremely complicated. For one, there would be a huge expense placed on businesses and individuals, one which would see many not survive after plastic having made many everyday items affordable. Significant resources would need to be dedicated to research and development and that would require finding hundreds of thousands of experts. And lastly, it would demand 100% participation from consumers – one thing any honest person knows is unachievable.
So what are our options? Instead of aiming for a world without plastic, why don’t we aim for a world without plastic pollution?
Here are some ideas to help us achieve this:
- Investing in better recycling streams and infrastructure
- Banning the use of plastic in anything that won’t get at least one year of us
- Rental initiatives – utilising existing products to get full benefit of their purpose
- Designing out waste – think smart about downstream effects
- Normalise buying second-hand
- Educate consumers to recycle right
- Dispensaries and refill programmes
- Right to repair – if your rented microwave won’t work, it can be repaired or replaced whereby the company will take the faulty microwave back for remanufacturing
The future of plastic is changing and that’s a good thing, but we need to remain realistic. It’s important to set goals we can start improving on right away, goals such as the 5 R’s: Reducing, Reusing, Redesigning, Recycling and Remanufacturing.
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