I once sat next to a young person on a plane. She took a nap and I glanced at a sticker on her laptop that read: “Rise above plastics”. I had to smile at the naïvety. Why? Well, the sticker was made of plastic, and so was the adhesive that held it on her laptop, which was also made of plastic. Her backpack was made of nylon plastic, and so were her shoes. She had a PET plastic water bottle in her hand and was cozied up in a polyester (plastic) blanket. In fact, the only thing I could see that wasn’t synthetic plastic was her cotton jacket. Later, she woke up and started editing video clips made on her ABS plastic Go-Pro camera—in the video, she was swimming in the ocean in a rubber suit with plastic flippers on. She had no idea that her life would not be possible without the very plastics she claimed to object to.
That incident made me think—there must be many people who are against plastic but who don’t fully understand what it would mean to live without it. I have spent my whole career as a plastic materials scientist, so to me it’s obvious, but how are the public supposed to know? In fact, how can the public be sure of anything these days when extreme headlines go viral and misinformation spreads at the speed of light? You would think that eventually the truth would come out and public opinion would correct itself, but scientists have studied that, and it turns out that the sensational lies spread faster and farther than the truth. So, when the truth does finally come out, it never catches up with the lie. Why is that? Well, the truth is often not as exciting as the lie was.
Over the last decade or so, there has been a vocal campaign against plastics, and the plastics industry has done almost nothing to counter it. Perhaps they assumed it would go away. However, it didn’t go away, so now we are ten years on, and the public has made up their minds that plastics are bad. Politicians make policies in response to that public opinion, and companies make policies and even create new product lines to address the public’s demands. Progress is being made in the war on plastics, and that must be a good thing, right?
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