In recent years, the plastics industry has been impacted by a series of bans enacted by governments at all levels. This year, Seattle became the first American city to ban disposable straws and utensils. In Australia, of course, plastic bags have been banned in Western Australia and Queensland, and are no longer provided by some major stores, including Coles and Big W. These bans were enacted with the goal of reducing plastics waste pollution. Whatever you think of the effectiveness or propriety of these bans, they have certainly reduced the demand for some types of disposable single-use plastics where they have been enacted.
Many in the plastics industry oppose such bans, but, in an era where plastics are less popular than in the past, maintaining a good image and contributing to solving environmental problems are both things that are in the interests of plastics producers.
There’s another reason for the plastics industry to take heart in the face of such bans. The reason, explained particularly well in this article published in “The Conversation”, is that some disposable plastics products really are indispensable!
The most obvious industry where this is the case is medicine. Plastics have revolutionized medicine over the past century: they are impermeable to pathogens, easy to clean, lightweight, transparent, and economical. This incredible combination of attributes, combined with the fact that sanitation and sterility are of utmost importance in medicine, mean that single-use medical products such as disposable gloves, syringes, and vials are here to stay. The sustained demand for these products has provided manufacturers with the money they need to research new improvements, such as anti-microbial plastics or new recycling techniques.
Food packaging is another case in which disposable plastics are unlikely to completely disappear. In particular, food products delivered in emergency response and international aid situations, as well as food delivered to remote locations, will likely continue to be wrapped in plastic – the anti-spoilage and sanitation benefits are incontrovertible. As we’ve reported on this blog in the past, the environmental impact of plastic packaging sometimes pales in significance compared to the impacts that would occur if food spoilage become more common, as it almost certainly would if plastics were no longer used in food packaging.
With more bans sure to be on the way, plastics industry leaders should still look to a future in which at least some disposable plastics are still considered indispensable by society.