We’ve grown to love them. Plastic, in all its many forms, has been part of our lives for many generations.
Way back at the start of the 20th century, electricians and others began using Bakelite for insulators and other safety-related applications. PVC pipes were introduced in the 1930s, and the invention of polystyrene came nearly 90 years ago as well.
Research related to the war effort in the 1940s resulted later in an amazing array of new products — vinyl records, children’s cameras, toys, even Tupperware!
And it certainly didn’t stop there. There’s a multitude of kinds and uses of plastic, providing us everything from lenses used in cataract surgery to fenders on our favourite cars.
Today it’s hard to imagine life without some of the plastic applications that make our lives easier. And, of course, new uses will continue to be invented and introduced.
What’s not so hard to imagine is the devastation being caused by the over-use of plastic. Its long-lasting qualities are important when it’s used for medical purposes, no doubt.
But when we learn how long a plastic grocery bag will persist — or a set of rings on our six-packs — that’s a different story. It’s our one-time, throw-away plastic items that are having such a negative impact on our environment . . . not just on the land, but halfway across our oceans as well.
So we should welcome our federal government’s plan to ban single-use plastics, though many Canadians might wish it went further. Like many nations in Europe, it’s targeting 2021 as the year when many of the easily replaceable items will be phased out.
Like grocery bags, to start with the most obvious. Canadians found sturdy paper bags — so easily biodegradable — worked well for many generations. Durable fabric bags are even better.
Or takeout coffee cups. Why use plastic, when you can roll up the rim on a paper cup?
The same goes for so many items in the fast-food industry — which uses so much plastic — from stir sticks and straws to containers and lids. Grocery stores, too, are reverting to such tried-and-true packaging materials as butcher’s wrap.
Some other industries seem to be dragging their heels. In hardware stores, those rigid plastic packages — nuts and bolts, automotive parts, you name it — are hard on the fingers as well as the environment. And why must so many things be “shrink wrapped” these days?
It’s obvious many of today’s consumer goods are packaged for the benefit of the shipper, not the environment. Bulky styrofoam packaging material is a growing problem. And that’s one of many plastics-related issues that a federal government can address.
At the local level, however, many communities are banning those plastic bags, as maybe the first step in their local response to our plastics overload. Indeed, some citizen groups in Lethbridge are asking city council to follow suit.
Members and friends of Environment Lethbridge could no doubt suggest what “next steps” would be feasible in our community.
As Alberta’s economy transitions away from gasoline and diesel, more of our province’s conventional and bituminous oil resources will be available for our petro-chemical industry. Its feedstocks can be used to create plastics for many positive uses.
As Dustin Hoffman was informed in “The Graduate,” plastics are the future.
So it’s our responsibility, individually and collectively as a community and a nation, to appreciate their ongoing benefits — but to eliminate the serious environmental harm some plastics are creating. If we won’t act, who will?
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