NYT Op-Ed Gives A Shout Out To Plastics

Susan Freinkel, author of the upcoming book “Plastic: A Toxic Love Story”, penned an Op-Ed in the New York Times in which she gives a brave defense of the use of plastics, albeit in moderation.
“In a world of nearly seven billion souls and counting, we are not going to feed, clothe and house ourselves solely from wood, ore and stone; we need plastics. And in an era when we’re concerned about our carbon footprint, we can appreciate that lightweight plastics take less energy to produce and transport than many other materials. Plastics also make possible green technology like solar panels and lighter cars and planes that burn less fuel. These “unnatural” synthetics, intelligently deployed, could turn out be nature’s best ally.”
I agree with her, nearly 100%. I just think she overstates the problems with plastic slightly.
"Unfortunately, as the plastics industry incessantly points out, the bans typically lead to a huge increase in the use of paper bags, which also have environmental drawbacks."
“Also have environmental drawbacks” strikes me as an understatement given the amount of resources needed to make paper bags. Freinkel also writes, “A recent expedition researching plastic pollution in the South Atlantic reported that its ship had trouble setting anchor in one site off Brazil because the ocean floor was coated with plastic bags.” That comes from this:
“In Recife, Brazil, our captains were trying to set the anchor at night in a fairly dodgy situation. The anchor wouldn't grab.  This is very rare for Sea Dragon.  The captains pulled the anchor up to investigate the problem.  Bags.  Plastic bags--1,000s of them sitting on the floor of the ocean in such quantity that they had become the floor of the ocean.  The anchor was full of them. And so they cleaned it off, and tried again.  And again, the same result.  Finally after a handful of attempts the hook held.”
Simply pulling up an anchor and seeing a couple of plastic bags on it doesn’t tell you that there are thousands of bags coating the bottom of the ocean. And this information is coming from activists that set out on these expeditions to ocean gyres to prove how terrible plastics are. More objective information on the subject is needed. (Full disclosure: I’m pretty darn pro-plastic. And I’ll have to admit, living near the shore all my life, that there is way too much plastic littering our oceans.) Overall, Freinkel makes a great contribution to common sense. BTW, I’m headed to the CMAI and DeWitt conferences in Houston next week. I’m quite certain that no one in attendance will be using a wooden toothbrush with boar’s hair bristles.

Author: Alex Tullo

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  1. I JUST read that opEd piece and agree that Freinkel hits the right tone. Chemists would also point out that plastics that are made to last (and/or be recycled) act as a carbon sink for the planet. If they are made from sources that take carbon from the air (like plants) their value as a carbon sink increases. But I use a wooden handled hairbrush because the plastic ones keep breaking.