By: Sumit Mukherjee – Chief Technology Officer of PTI
Whether it’s on social media or in mainstream news, it’s virtually impossible to go a few days without reading a post or article that describes how bad plastic is for the environment. Some of the information that is being spread is factual, however, an even larger amount is based on incorrect assumptions, and even panic.
Keyboard militants are pounding away daily telling us that plastics should be banned. Left uncorrected, these falsehoods will become embedded, forever altering the future of the plastics industry and its contribution to the global economy.
With various organizations taking up the charge to address these facts, we should not overlook the power each of us has as individuals to alter perception. In the same vein as the “see something, say something” campaign, we, as plastics professionals should also become vocal on the individual level. Here are some reminders of positions you can take the next time you see a post or have a conversation that isn’t accurate about our industry.
- Ocean garbage isn’t a plastics problem, it’s a litter problem. We have ended up with significant amount of plastic in our oceans and beaches because someone put it there. It is careless dumping in waterways and consumers not picking up their waste after an afternoon at the beach that has created this mess. For those of you old enough to remember, in the 1960s and 70s, there was a Keep America Beautiful campaign. In those days, people thought nothing about throwing garbage out of their car window. The campaign was instrumental in stopping that activity. “People start pollution. People can stop it.”
- Plastic packaging reduces food waste. Consumers be reminded that without plastic, tons of food would end up in the dump due to spoilage. If they are looking to paper as an alternative, the processing of that material needs plentiful water and bleach. If the paper has to be waxed, a coating needs to be added in addition to the processing. That adds cost and has a negative environmental impact.
- Plastic reduces energy use.Consumers should be made aware that a glass bottle weighs 10 times more than a plastic bottle of equivalent product volume. More bottles per truckload due to plastic’s reduced physical profile means reduced fuel charges. Breakage resistant plastic also means less damage/spills.
- Plastic package is critical in disaster relief. Plastic containers are the ideal way to get water to people ravaged by drought, famine, flood and even manmade disasters like the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Lack of access to clean water leads to the spread of disease and even death.
- Plastics for medical devices. The use of plastics for medical devices, drug delivery systems, etc. have completely altered healthcare. Whether it is an IV bag or tubing used with an insulin pump, without plastic-based materials, a significant number of people with chronic diseases would die.
- It’s all about economics. Some consumers have this preconceived notion that the plastics industry isn’t lifting a finger to address environmental impact. They have no clue that across the board efforts are being made to reduce the amount of plastic being used—not only because it makes environmental sense, but also because it makes economic sense. Additionally, technological advances are being made to devise processes and develop material to make packaging even more recyclable.
- One of the biggest problems facing us today is how to reclaim materials and how to properly reprocess them when they are reclaimed. For example, consumers don’t understand that empty water bottles have economic value and can be used to create next generation materials. Brand owners also need to do their part to provide instructions on their packaging for disposal that will enable next generation use.
The next time one of your friends tells you how bad plastic is or when you come across a message on social media that thinks that the material is pure evil, don’t be afraid to take a stand. Collectively, we can shift opinion, one person at a time.
Author: Sumit Mukherjee is the chief technology officer of PTI. He has 25 years of experience in package design, materials characterization, process simulation and modeling, and finite element analysis (FEA) for package performance prediction.