Perils of Plastic

Oh, wonderful plastic. In reference to David Futrelle’s article about plastic [Reading, September 20], I must agree with many of his remarks about the practicality and usefulness of plastics. Great stuff for packaging, clothing, automobiles, shopping bags, and so on. Having worked in both the pulp and paper industry and the plastics industry I can vouch that both produce some pretty nasty effluent as a result of production. Which is worse? Sulfur dioxide is pretty nasty, but so are monostyrene organic vapors. We could discuss the environmental friendliness of each product, but Mr. Futrelle has already done much of this.

One point that he seems to have overlooked is the fact that plastics are not really renewable-type resources. Sure you can make some plastics from potatoes but nearly all plastics are produced from petroleum products. When you cut down some trees and make a coffee table or some newsprint you can plant a replacement. In a few years you have a new tree. In the pulp and paper industry 17 years is the growth cycle for tree production (Douglas fir). In Brazil the eucalyptus tree can be cycled every 8 to 9 years. Believe it or not, there is some responsible tree farming going on in Brazil.

How long does it take to grow a gallon of crude oil? Fifty thousand years? One hundred thousand years? I’m not quite sure, but we could very likely deplete the world’s resources before it “grows” back. Of course, this is not all that important if we consider why we really choose one or the other. That is, based on practicality and cost. Which product gives the best “bang for the buck.” Mr. Futrelle, and most people, love to talk about recycling. We forget the first of the r’s is reduce. This may sound cynical but are we not just looking for the argument that will allow us to consume as much as before, or more, and still satisfy our environmental conscience? Let us not delude ourselves into believing that present levels of consumption (of energy and goods) can be maintained without continued destruction of the environment that sustains our life.

Let’s reduce a little and when it comes to choosing a fuel, packaging, or article of clothing try to pick one that you can replace by planting something (and allowing it to grow).

Charles Sebestik