In Mike Nichols’s 1967 film, The Graduate, a disillusioned college grad, Ben, played by Dustin Hoffman, is taken aside at a party by a family friend, Mr. McGuire.
“I want to say one word to you, just one word,” Mr. McGuire tells him.
“Yes, I am,” Ben says, nodding.
“Exactly how do you mean?” Ben asks.
“There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”
In the 1960s, plastics were mostly used for durable goods, from car seats to sleek, Italian-designed kitchenware. Shortly thereafter, the use of single-use, throwaway plastic for beverages, food, shopping bags and containers exploded, creating fortunes for the petrochemicals companies that would churn out hundreds of millions of tons of polyethylene, the most common and cheapest of the plastics.
Today, production is still continuing, plastics have become more dangerous than nuclear weapon
What can be done about it?
The plastics manufacturing business is global industry with enormous power. It invests a lot and it has created a lot of jobs.
Population growth and wealthier economies pretty much guarantee plastics production and demand will remain strong.
The world today has an uncontrable demand for plastics in everything from shopping bags and soda bottles to fast-food and supermarket packaging. While common fossil-fuel plastics derived from petrochemicals (petroleum or natural gas) take hundreds of years to create and release significant amounts of greenhouse gases in their production, they are quickly consumed, adding to landfill or ending up in our oceans. Most plastic is not recycled. It goes into landfills or is dumped elsewhere. An appalling amount makes its way into the oceans. Various estimates say the mass of plastic in the oceans will exceed the mass of fish by 2050, according to a joint study produced by the World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Co.
However, there is hope for sustainable plastic with the emergence of bioplastic.
The good news is that the citizens have started understanding the implications of plastic pollution. Bioplastics – plastics made from renewable organic material, such as cornstarch – are trickling into the market. Bioplastics biodegrade fairly quickly, causing little pollution, while the plastic-shopping bag you might use for 20 minutes can take centuries to break down.
But bioplastic made from renewable resources provide one solution, with many being completely biodegradable, enabling them to be composted naturally and locally, reducing our environmental impact.
We have to also remember that bioplastic products are not the excuse for littering. Littering is social problem.