In the case of plastic, that’s refining oil, and oil is a non-renewable resource. So you have raw material extraction, then you have recycled material, and then all energy that goes into recycling or extracting, where is that power coming from? Is it also from renewables, is it from non-renewables? So it’s just, it’s really complicated than plastic is packaged and shipped, and where’s transportation costs, etc.
Common arguments and assertion about plastic
Plastic in ocean
The first argument against plastic that, most come ones are like, there’s tons of plastic in our oceans. You get all of these videos from social media that are like, look at this giant Pacific Ocean garbage patch, there’s a giant plastic island the size of China or whatever floating around in the ocean. For example few developed countries like UK, US, Switzerland have infrastructure, they have an entire system that goes into separating aluminium, dark glass, light glass, plastic, compost, and garbage, all of that is separated, and anything that can’t be recycled is incinerated. There is also a bit of electricity that’s produced from heat of combustion, and then the exhaust gas, the flue gas is scrubbed and cleaned as much as possible and then released into the atmosphere.
In a lot of non-coastal countries, they don’t have direct access to the ocean, only via rivers. So their plastic doesn’t directly end up into the ocean. Which means the trash you see in the oceans might not necessarily be your trash. So all efforts you make like, zero waste, plastic-free people, all effort and money you’re putting into looking for products that were packaged in cardboard or glass. So people living in non-coastal countries and their effort into living plastic-free wouldn’t have an effect as they’re not a coastal region.
For example, countries like Romania and in Indonesia, and there is so much trash on the side of the road, which then after rainfall, slides into the river, river carries it off, the people are like, well, that’s it, that’s what we do, we throw the trash in the river and the river takes it away, that’s how we get rid of our trash, ’cause they have no infrastructure. The trash, it’s windy, the trash then gets transported by rivers into the ocean. The people don’t know what to do with their trash. A lot of studies for example, one study found that out of 192 coastal countries, 20 of these countries were responsible for 82% of the ocean’s plastic. And in these top 20 countries, you have China, you have Indonesia, you have the Philippines, and then in slot number 20, you have the US.
Links to above statistics:-
We shouldn’t eliminate plastic because we have an infrastructure problem, because even if we eliminate plastic, we’re still be sending tons of clothes and other waste into the ocean.
Plastic takes years to degrade
The second argument that is heard very often is plastic takes 10 to thousands of years to degrade. This argument is quite a biased one, because why would we want plastic to degrade? Why are we throwing it on the ground in the first place? Maybe you’re thinking about in landfills, plastic takes a long time to degrade in landfills. Lot of people actually don’t understand how landfills work. Because landfills aren’t meant to have anything decompose. Landfills are actually created in a way, they’re super low oxygen and low light environments that are created in a way for garbage to be mummified.
So many landfills have actually started to limit the amount of biodegradable material that comes into their landfill. The whole point of the landfill is that the trash doesn’t emit greenhouse gases when it decomposes, and it doesn’t seep toxins into the ground. It’s meant to be mummified. And plus, many studies have even found that paper bags do not degrade any faster than plastic bags in a landfill. In fact, paper bags actually emits more CO2 than a thin plastic bag does. But you can see the plastic bag, so that’s why we should eliminate plastic and move towards paper.
Hard to recycle
The third popular argument is that plastic bags are hard to recycle. Well, it’s actually not more difficult to recycle plastic than it is to recycle paper. And it takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it does to recycle a pound of paper. But yes, at the end of its life cycle, plastic is more difficult to recycle. We should be maybe investing in a different type of infrastructure, like maybe more efficient incineration units, instead of just dumping them into landfills.
Some other arguments are like oh, they’re harmful to marine and wildlife and also to human beings, but this is an infrastructure problem. If we didn’t have plastic, we would be polluting the earth with materials, like textiles in fact, we already do that. So if it’s not plastic, you’re going to pollute the earth with other waste.
And then another argument is plastic is made from non-renewable. Yes, fossil fuels are non-renewable because they take billions of years to generate. But at the same time, the paper industry accounts for 10% of the world’s deforestation, and deforestation accounts for 12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. And trees are renewable, but they also take a while to grow. And illegal deforestation is a big problem in the world, so just switching from plastic to paper is not going to solve the world’s problems.
Why choose plastic over paper
You need to consider that making paper bags consumes four times as much energy and three times the amount of water than making plastic bags.
Additionally, making paper bags generates 80% more solid waste, generates 70% more air pollution, and creates 50 times more water pollution. Plastic also has many benefits. Then we have to cut down this many more trees to create this extra cropland and use this much more water to feed this crop.