Note — Jan 09, 2022

How Bad Are Plastics, Really?

You can read this excellent piece at The Atlantic two ways. First, the way Rebecca Altman intended, as an essential read on the history of plastics by way of WWII, fossil fuel, the need to make something out of stockpiled by-products, a ‘need’ for ever-expanding, multiplying, and growing markets, the twin plagues of marketing and lobbying, the deadly habit of ignoring the true costs of making stuff, and how “plastic is climate change, just in its solid state.”

Second, as a masterclass in capitalism, as the template that is destroying the planet and our living conditions. Growth at all cost, corruption, structurally linked systems, extraction, ignoring externalities, and a complete disregard for life beyond profit.

Demand for plastic has been as manufactured as plastics themselves. Society is awash in throwaway plastics not because of the logic of desire but because of the logic of history and of integrated industrial systems. […]

When the industry couldn’t invent new markets with, for example, the Tupperware party, it pushed into established ones by underbidding leather, cotton, glass, and metals. Still, sales were such that, by the mid-1950s, as the plastics scholar Max Liboiron has explained, the industry looked for growth by moving plastics not into homes but through them. The rosy future of plastics was in disposables—or as Modern Packaging Magazine’s editor, Lloyd Stouffer, put it, “in the trash can”—and polystyrene was one of the go-to resins. […]

The plastics industry hasn’t had to account for the true costs of its operations, either, including the price of what it has burned, drummed, dumped, lagooned, landfilled, injected, spilled, incinerated, sent up the stack, or drained out the outfall pipe. […]

Should U.S. plastics production continue to grow as the industry projects, by 2030, it will eclipse the climate contributions of coal-fired power plants