Monday, October 6, 2008

In Praise of “In Praise of Plastic”

As SPI gears up for both Sustain ’08 (the landmark plastics sustainability conference set for November 5-7 in Chicago) and its internet based Industry Promotion Campaign, we were gratified to see “In Praise of Plastic,” a mostly positive story in the Boston Globe's Sunday magazine on September 28th.

SPI staff responded to reporter Keith O’Brien’s request for help with the story several weeks ago, and we are pleased that he wrote a fairly comprehensive and engaging article on the benefits of plastics – particularly how our favorite material benefits the environment. In fact, the article’s sub-head reads: “Why an oil-sucking, landfill-clogging, non-biodegradable, it's-everywhere material is so good for the environment. Really."

Here’s an excerpt from the article that lays out some of the ways plastics contribute to a more sustainable world:

“…innovative new plastic packaging is actually more energy-efficient than other alternatives and helps users reduce, not increase, their carbon footprints. Replacing the plastic packaging that is in use today, according to one European study, would use four times as much material from other sources, like paper or aluminum. The key reason why: Plastic is lightweight. Your typical plastic quart milk jug, according to studies, is about 90 percent lighter than its equivalent glass container and about 30 percent lighter than a paper carton. Less packaging means less waste and less energy spent on transport - and packaging is hardly the only application for plastic.

Builders use plastic to wrap new homes, cutting down on heat loss and increasing energy efficiency. Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, which relies so heavily on carbon fiber reinforced plastic (a type of acrylic) construction that some have dubbed it the "plastic plane," uses 20 percent less fuel than any other airplane of its size. And Detroit automakers, companies that have been using plastic to make dashboards and bumpers for decades, are looking to follow Boeing's lead. In tight times, they want to reduce weight and increase fuel efficiency. The answer: plastics.”

The article points out that recycling plastics is still a problem, but makes clear that, generally, the issue is not due to the material itself. In fact, the piece concludes with this quote from Bob Malloy, a professor and the chairman of the plastics engineering department at UMass-Lowell:

"Plastics generally improve the quality of life. I don't want to see plastic bags and bottles at the beach, either. But to me, that's not a plastics problem. Those plastic bottles and bags are completely recyclable. Its people.”

We hope “In Praise of Plastic” generates discussion and that you pass the article on to your colleagues.

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