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Plastics and Nature

There is widespread prejudice against plastic, specifically that it is inherently bad for the environment. Makes sense, right? Plastics come from oil; oil is scarce; drilling for it and transporting it can lead to environmental degradation; and so on.

But the truth is this: Plastics can be great for mother nature.

How can that possibly be true? In some really simple ways, it turns out.

First, in the modern world that we live in, transportation is a bit part of everyone’s life. From transportation of products to transportation of people, a big part of the consumption of fossil fuels, particularly oil, is claimed by the transportation sector.

How do plastics help here? The answer is the relative weight of materials. Because of intelligent use of plastic materials, the weight of our aircraft, trucks, trains and automobiles is dramatically lighter than the same amount of carrying capacity a couple of generations ago.

To put it another way, if you replaced plastic components in the transportation sector with the heavier materials they replaced you would decrease fuel efficiency dramatically. And fossil fuel use would necessarily increase by a proportionate amount.

What this all means, quite simply, is that plastics are allowing humankind to use less fossil fuels, and that’s a good thing.

Another way that plastics actually decrease human exposure to toxins is in water treatment. Plastics help clean water in a couple of ways. One involves adding soluble polymers to water in such a way that impurities coagulate. That allows those same impurities to be filtered out, or to simply settle. Plastic membranes are also important in separating impurities from waste water.

Speaking of plastics and water; if your home was constructed in the last 30 years, then plastics are keeping your water safer than it used to be. That’s because, in the bad old days, lead was the preferred material for water pipes.

There are plenty of older buildings in the United States whose old lead pipes are still being used, and that means occupants of those buildings need to be careful how much of the unfiltered water coming out at their taps they drink. The adverse consequences for human health from lead are serious.

So, when considering how you feel about plastic, it’s good to be equipped with a few facts. Plastics are helping us use less fossil fuel, and improving the quality of the water that we put in our bodies. And in the process, plastics help humankind in our efforts to preserve and protect nature, and our role within it. Cool, huh?