Is Plastics the real problem?

Isn’t plastics a by product of petroleum refining? So, if we don’t produce plastics, are we just passing the buck of disposing these non-degradable chemicals from plastic consumers to the refiners ? In which case, shouldn’t we first stop using crude oil ?

If we stop buying plastics (chairs, pipes etc) and switch to other alternatives, I think we would be causing more harm to the environment. So, I think as long as crude oil is refined, we should produce plastics and find better ways to reuse/recycle them.

you have a valid point there.

i just think that its so daunting swithcing over to new energies when i cant conceive how the world could ever make that transition. it would be so much easier if oil reserves just ran out overnight. then wed be forced to embrace other, better resources.

I think plastic will make great conversation pieces in a few thousand years dug up by archeologists. Just imagine an Ipod, Atari, Imac, Starck watch, Panton chair in display cases. Rembrandt who? Picasso what? Michaelangelo would be kickin’ himself for not investing in synthetic paint.

Although bamboo sounds cool too. If we figure out how to clone everything, there’d be no worries about resources… hmmm… only polution. By that time we’ll probably colonize mars and we’ll use earth as our trash can. So who needs plastic anyway?

the problem is, satish, that the by products of crude oil refining must go through many more “dirty” and polluting processes. Not-to-mention the processing used to manufacture the product and then disposal of the product at its end of life.

We as designers have a responsibility to push clean materials into the mainstream. Weening consumers off of the whiz-bang things we can do with petroleum-based plastics will take quite a long time.

There is alot that plastic does for us too. To mold something plastic uses 1/10 to 1/20 the energy of making the same thing from aluminum, steel or wood. Less energy, means less burning of coal, oil and gas, or less nuclear waste (unless you live in Canada eh?).

Another benefit is the long life, it’s just society hasn’t figured that out. If we make a really nice plastic piece, using the right mix, we can have a product that will last for decades and still look rather new.

TV’s are definately already like this. The average consumer buys a new TV every 13 years. That means alot of people are using 20-30 year old TVs. I know TVs have alot of other polluting bits, but the exteriors typically keep well.

only about 2% of the oil that comes out of the ground gets turned into plasic in the first place, and if it’s not turned into vinyl or styrene, it can be recycled (not just as re-grind) infinitly. So it turns out to actually be a pretty wise choice as a material.

i think that this is a great point. if you imagine everything that is currently being produced in plastic as being produced in wood, even a quickly renewable resource like bamboo, and you realize that we’d strip the earth of all growth pretty quick. not that growth resources shouldn’t be utilized but it’s got to be part of a balanced approach.

the real challenge is to get pre-used resources (aka “trash”) back into useful scenarios. if something is biodegradable lets get it back to the biosphere somewhere where the nutrients will be of use. if it is non-organic, lets get back to the manufacturers where it will be of use.

the person who figures out how to mine landfills effectively will be one rich person.


— read Bruce Sterlings Siggraph speach–

different outlook on cradle to cradle.

Why don’t we re-use packaging. Here’s the scenario:

We buy a product, use it up, then return the package to be filled up with product once more. Hey, why not make it really convinient too. We could have employees of our company drop off the product right at our doors. When finished, we place the empty containers outside to be collected and re-used.

Wow…how far out and in the future a concept like that would be…

All plastics are not made out of petroleum/oil.

They can be made out of plant or animal derivatives as well, for one thing.

The first plastics were not oil-based.

The first synthetic plastics were not oil based! bakelite is made from phenol and formaldehyde.

The biodegradable materials made from corn starch, potato starch… are plastics too.

The totally synthetic plastics have other downsides as well, though, some of them being the gasses they give off during their usable life or upon incineration.

Just one more case of the real deal being more complciated and less black and white than “plastics are bad!”

There’s actually a part of David Brin’s book “Earth” in which the cost of raw materials gets high enough that it’s economically feasible to mine landfills.

He calls it The Garbage Rush…and it doesn’t sound all that far-fetched. Seems it’s primarily a cost/benefit issue, and one of putting enough resources into developing the technology necessary to making the process accessible, reliable and profitable.

I think there’s a fair parallel with recycling technology here: one of the reasons plastics are not usually recycled (even though many thermoplastics are ideal candidates) is because we don’t have systems in place to do it as easily or cheaply as the systems that transport and “dispose” of garbage.

But think about how many decades humans have been hauling and burying garbage on a large scale, versus how long we’ve been recycling on a similar scale. It’s no wonder many planners and vocal citizens see recycling as an extravagance rather than a viable policy. A hundred years ago, municipal haulage was probably seen as a silly alternative to simply lighting it on fire in your back yard…

Concrete BOx has made one of the better points yet.

Not all plastics are by products of oil, It was and is our nations dependancy on oil that I think still supports making petroleum based plastics.

At this point in time we are and probably always will be dependent on plastics for many things.

Just the thought of what plastics has allowed for modern medicine is staggering

Plastic is an amazing material I don’t thnk we should or could ever replace it, Im opptomistic we can find better ways of making it, to get away from petroleum. we just need to focus alot more $ in that direction. That would be a great focus for a materials science major. or chemistry major.

We do that already for many liquids. Water cooler bottles. Propane tanks. Milk used to be available exactly as described.

To add to the list, FedEx envelopes have two adhesive strips so that they might be re-used… but I’ve never ever heard of anybody reusing one.

Why is that?

On the plastic vs wood question… does anybody get asked anymore if they want paper or plastic bags at the store?

On an energy basis, I think that any wood is a great material if we can properly manage the harvest and re-growth. After all, trees are the ultimate in solar energy conversion.

The problem is that a lot of wood gets thrown out instead of reused. Architectural construction almost always uses “new” wood. Unwanted wood does not get ground up into paper or MDF but, like paper usually ends up in landfills instead of the recycle bin.