Plastic: The Ugly, The Bad, and Maybe Some Good?
Let’s talk a bit about plastic. Is it really all bad? There’s definitely some ugliness. But could there also be some good? Could it be used for sustainable packaging? I’m going to ask you to let your mind be curious.
Plastic Began as Innovative Packaging and Products
As this National Geographic video shows, it’s interesting to look at the history of plastic. Before 1950 plastic was barely a part of American life. Modern plastic really didn’t get its start until World War II when the military realized how versatile it could be for items including safety glass for airplanes, material for parachute cords and synthetic rubber for tires.
But after the war companies needed to find new ways to sell their products… plastic baggies, women’s nylons, and Tupperware. People went crazy for plastic containers, Christmas trees, and plastic eating utensils. But the new throw away culture fell in love with single use plastics and didn’t worry about the consequences. During the 60s, global plastics production increased 400%! By 1979 America was producing more plastic than steel.
Plastic Became Problematic
Now let’s talk about the BAD. People began to worry about plastic’s side effects. For example, Monsanto produced bottles for Coca-Cola made of Acrylonitrile which was identified as toxic. It was used in food and beverage containers for 3 decades. It was finally banned in 1977 and the bottles were taken off the shelves.
As the research was stacking up, so was the garbage. Due to a landfill shortage, a ship named the Garbage Barge made headlines in 1987 after it wandered the shorelines for months looking for a place to dump its trash. It made headlines and got people talking. How could America, such a large country be drawing in garbage….?
In 2007 the city of San Francisco banned plastic bags. Powerful plastic lobbyists freaked out, spent millions of dollars and successfully lobbied states to preemptively ban plastic bag bans under the guise of protecting the consumer and the grocery stores. In 2014, 100 BILLION plastic bags were used in the United States or almost 1 bag per person per day.
We are still consuming plastic at a rapid pace even though we can literally see the toll it is taking on our environment and wildlife. 700 species of marine animals have been reported to have eaten or entangled in plastic. Scientist estimate that by 2050 almost every seabird species on the planet will be eating plastic. And only about 20% of all plastic gets recycled.
Look around and see if you can go through a day without seeing plastic waste and litter. It’s UGLY. But we’ve become so used to it that we don’t notice. Approximately 300 million tons of plastic is produced annually. 8 million tons is expected to flow into the oceans. There is an estimated 150 million tons of plastic already in the ocean. If we do nothing, by 2050 there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean. Thousands of birds and animals are dying from encountering plastic. Plastic is in the food chain and accelerating extinction. Plastic waste in the environment is so abundant that it has been suggested as a marker for the current geological era.
Time to Get Curious: Can Plastic be Sustainable?
So how could plastic possibly be good? Consider Kim Raegerts’s view on Plastic Rehab in the video above and “get curious” for just a moment. What if I could create some doubt in your mind that plastic is all bad? Consider the side of the story that doesn’t get all the attention and media. Are we really being fair to plastics? Are they really the ones destroying the planet?
We’re MAD at plastic for not degrading into the environment. But so what! Why do you expect them to? Metal and glass don’t degrade into the environment and we don’t blame them. Plastics are a resource just like metals. We have to stop throwing resources into the world and expecting them to disappear. We must recover and recycle and keep plastic in the materials loop and out of the environment in the first place.
Food packaging (just like marijuana packaging) gets a lot of blame. But consider that 2 grams of plastic packaging wrapped around a cucumber will extend the shelf life in the refrigerator for 11 days. The shelf life of a steak can be extended for 26 days. The CO2 emissions required to make the plastic packaging is less than 10% of the CO2 emitted already to make the food in the first place. And plastic packaging will prevent CO2 emissions by preventing food waste. Plastics are strong, lightweight materials – half the density of glass. Plastic packaging can be made very thin compared to other materials. Because they weigh so little, they will consume a lot less resources and be a lot more efficient when transported.
But why don’t we just go back to using glass packaging instead of plastic? It takes 24 times as much glass as plastic to package the same amount of liquid. Because glass is heavier it will cost 2 times as much to transport. Sure you can reuse glass bottles but not indefinitely. Glass can be reused about 8 times before it needs to be re-melted into a new bottle. For intermediate cleaning quite a bit of water and aggressive chemicals have to be used. Glass melts at 1,500 deg. C which means it takes a lot of energy and CO2 emissions to produce. Plastic used for bottles melts at just 300 deg. C. Glass is not the sustainable packaging option we would like it to be. Plastic supported by a good recycling program supported by consumers who effectively recycle is much better for the environment as a whole.
Plastic is Not to Blame: We Are
Plastic on our beaches and in our oceans is BAD and UGLY. But can we really blame plastics? If you’re stopped at a green light behind someone texting who doesn’t realize that the light had changed do you blame the car? Or do you blame the idiot that’s texing? Research shows that 80% of littering is intentional and performed by individuals. That’s YOU and ME, us, the consumer. Should we ban plastics to protect ourselves from the idiots we are? If we were to ban all plastic packaging and replace it with the alternatives (paper, glass, aluminum) the amount of materials required, energy required, and resulting CO2 emissions would EXPLODE. Banning all plastic is not the way to go.
What is? Are you confused yet? Are you depressed yet? Don’t be. Be critical but do not go blindly to war on plastics just because they are the most visibly littered material. We must focus on how to keep plastics in the materials loop. You have power. YOU are the consumer. You can drive the market to sustainability if we do it together. Check your facts, be a hero not a hater.
There’s a Better Way to Make Plastic Packaging Sustainable
As shown in the video above, there are massive efforts to clean up the plastic in the oceans today. But have we had it all wrong? Consider a surprising solution to ocean plastic. If your kitchen sink started overflowing what would you do? Would you just grab a bucket and keep catching the water? Or would you turn off the kitchen sink? Turn off the tap! 80% of ocean plastic comes from countries that have extreme poverty. If you live in the grips of poverty and your country does not provide any support or pathways to recycling, you’re not going to recycle your plastics. The obstacles are just too big.
David Katz leads an organization called The Plastic Bank which allows things to be purchased in third world countries by collecting and turning in plastic for recycling. Stores are more like community centers where people sort, remove labels, remove caps, shred and pack the plastic into bales to export. The plastic is then sold to brands who have commissioned the use of Social Plastics in their products. For example, Henkl has committed to 100MM Kg. of social plastic material every year. The Plastic Bank recovers plastic as a resource and closes the loop in the circular economy while contributing to the elimination of plastic in oceanbound waterways and alleviating poverty at the same time. There is a Vancouver bottle deposit program where people can return deposit refundable recyclables and instead of taking cash have the opportunity to deposit the value into the account of the poor around the world. Social Plastic is Money. Humans have produced over 8 Trillion Kg. of Plastic at $0.50/kg that equals $4 Trillion. Social Plastic is bitcoin for the earth.
How Do We Make Plastic Packaging Even More Sustainable?
So we’ve seen that plastic is bad and ugly. We’ve gotten curious and understand that there can be some good to plastic. And we see that there are ways to recover plastic as a resource and put it to good use. But how do we drive more programs like The Plastic Bank?
Consider Andrew Forrest’s views driving the organization noplasticwaste.org, as seen in the video above. If we can’t make it cheaper to recycle plastic into new containers (good plastic) than making new plastic out of virgin fossil fuels (bad plastic) then the world will stick with virgin fossil fuel plastic. There is a real will to change, especially as it relates to Marijuana Packaging.
There are tens of thousands of brands that use plastic but only about 100 major plastic resin producers (major petrochemical companies). We need 100 companies to raise the value of building blocks of plastic from virgin oil and gas (bad plastic) so that recycled plastic (good plastic) is competitive and an article of value all over the world. We must drive toward BAD plastic costing more than GOOD plastic. In the past year due to the demands that the COVID Pandemic has created for more single use plastics and the Texas power shutdown that crippled refineries, the cost of plastic resin has skyrocketed. Polypropylene for example used to cost $0.60 to $0.70 per lb. and is now double that at $1.40 to $1.60 per lb. Could we be at the beginning of the transition to GOOD PLASTIC? Let’s hope so.
How CRATIV Makes Sustainable Marijuana Packaging out of Plastic
While CRATIV Packaging products are made of plastics, I made the pledge two years ago to be environmentally conscious. I wasn’t sure exactly how we were going to do it, but I began to expect it to happen. Since that time we have transitioned all of our cannabis packaging products to using an Accelerator additive that helps the plastic to break down more quickly in landfills. CRATIV Accelerator products are still recyclable as well. Landfills are beginning to build infrastructure to recover and use landfill gases (LFG) created by the decomposition of materials in landfills (like CRATIV Accelerator products) into methane gas. LFG’s are fed into a collection system which consists of a series of wells drilled into a landfill through a piping system to later produce clean, renewable electricity. The process also removes harmful methane from the environment.
At CRATIV Packaging we are also working on developing alternative resins for our cannabis packaging products made from plants. We are very close to launching a series of CRATIV Earth products that will be compost friendly. Sourced from the Earth and returned to the Earth… the ultimate sustainable loop.
In summary it is important that we all focus on the plastics challenge that mankind has created. We must “turn off the tap” to stop plastics from flowing into the ocean. We must drive toward “good plastic” (recycled plastic) being a valued resource and as cost effective as virgin fossil fuel plastic (bad plastic). We research and develop new technologies such as CRATIV Accelerator that accelerates biodegradation and creates energy in landfills. We must drive toward plant based resins that can be molded like plastic and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. We must support regulation and advancements in recycling infrastructure. And most importantly we must as humans STOP littering plastic and allow ourselves to consider that plastic can be good and recovered as a resource just like aluminum and glass. We must come together as mankind to SAVE PLANET EARTH. CRATIV will drive to be a part of the solution. That is my commitment.
Founder, President, CEO
CRATIV Solutions Inc.