Are We Understanding the Plastic Problem Correctly?

Yes I think environmentalists often highlight so many issues that people get dizzy and loose track of what is most important. I think it leads to a feeling of hopelessness where people think nothing can be done or rather there are so many problems they don’t know where to begin.

I tend to say the solution is simple:

Stop extracting fossil fuels. Stop oil extraction, goal digging etc. That is first priority.

But to get back to plastic. I get a sense that we are misunderstanding this problem. Production of plastic itself is not the problem. The problem is plastic getting into the ocean. So naturally the question is: How does plastic get into the ocean?

Apparently when tested it turns out that lots of companies supposedly recycling plastic just ship it to Asia or other places in the world where it gets dumped in the ocean or some landfill.

Hence the problem is not plastic itself. Or at least that is just a small part of the problem. The problem is the handling of plastic. And if you look at the handling it points to an even deeper problem: the extreme market oriented approach to every problem. We try buy our way out of all these problem in the west. We send our crap to companies and it is out of sight and out of mind.

We have to start accepting that we actually need to handle our garbage ourselves. Plastic used in a country needs to be recyled and disposed of properly in that country, no cutting corners by shipping it to Africa, Asia or somewhere else.

Until we can trust recycling is actually done properly, the safest approach may be to simply incinerate all plastic garbage. Sure that emits CO₂ but is an acceptable short term tradeoff. Most fossil fuel does not go into plastic anyway.

I am sceptical towards going on an all out crusade against plastic without fully understanding the nature of the problem. Plastic is a wonderful and versatile material, and it would suck if we had to give it up.

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Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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