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April 18 2018

Earth Day 2018: Plastics don’t deserve the bad rap

by Amy Cooke

It’s that eco-festive time of year again when environmentally conscientious and slightly sanctimonious friends and family members shame us for our secret stash of plastic grocery bags, insufficient recycling efforts, and having a disposable bottle of water in our gasoline-powered car.

Earth Day 2018 is Sunday, April 22, and this year’s theme is “End Plastic Pollution.” The Web site isn’t very kind to the man-made materials found in products that do everything from save lives to reduce waste:

“From poisoning and injuring marine life to disrupting human hormones, from littering our beaches and landscapes to clogging our waste streams and landfills, the exponential growth of plastics is now threatening the survival of our planet.”

I don’t know anyone opposed to polluting less and encouraging more efficient use of resources. It’s smart business and good for the environment, but plastics don’t deserve the hyperbolic bad rap that Earth Day 2018 is determined to give them.

As the proverb goes, “necessity is the mother of invention,” and so it is with plastics, which got their start in the 19th century as a possible replacement for “scarce materials such as ivory and tortoise shell,” according to the Plastics Make it Possible Web site, an “online destination” for news and innovation on plastics from the American Chemistry Council.

I’m old enough to remember the novelty of plastic shampoo bottles was advertised in the famous Prell commercial. Yes, there was a time when parents worried about broken glass bottles in bathtubs.

Fast forward to present day. It would be hard to imagine life without plastics. Consider whether you would be willing to do without preemie incubators, baby bottles, medical packaging, syringes, helmets, skis, carpet, curling irons, light weight fuel-efficient cars, food packaging, TVs, computers, and cell phones… just to name a few.

Think of going on a picnic, taking kids to the park, making dinner, putting on makeup, or being in the hospital without plastics.

And first responders and the military? They can’t protect all of us without plastics protecting them.

Part of Earth Day participants’ problem with plastics could be that the raw materials needed to produce them are primarily hydrocarbons such as coal, natural gas, and oil, which Earth Day doesn’t look upon favorably. In 2016, the Earth Day theme was “Stop Protecting Fossil Fuels.”

It was that 2016 anti-fossil fuel theme that inspired my employer, the Independence Institute, Colorado’s state-based, free-market think tank, to launch our first annual Earth Day Fossil Fuels Art Contest in 2017 to honor the resources Mother Earth provides that make the day possible:

“Enviros celebrate by planting trees, but they never celebrate the trucks that deliver the trees, or the gas that powers that truck, or the plastic handles of the shovels they use. Shouldn’t Mother Earth be thanked for making Earth Day events possible?”

We’re back in 2018 with our Earth Day Fossil Fuels Poster Contest. While others will celebrate industrial wind and utility scale solar, we want to highlight fossil fuels, the “work horses” of our economy.

As our Web site says, “In the 21st Century, so many of us are fortunate to celebrate Earth Day from positions of material wealth and a standard of living derived almost exclusively from fossil-fuel-driven economic development that has lifted scores of people out of poverty through access to affordable power. We believe affordable, reliable, abundant, safe energy and a thriving, clean environment are not mutually exclusive.”

Consider this a big thank you to our earth for providing us hydrocarbons to power our economy and produce plastics that make our lives better.

Just ahead of Earth Day 2018, I’m reminded of a great line from the 1967 movie (made possible by plastics and fossil fuels) The Graduate: “There’s a great future in plastics.”

It was true then, and it’s true now.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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