One of the most divisive issues out there in the world today – not counting, say, Brexit, climate change or even the keto diet – are plastics. When it comes to plastics, feelings run high.
Rationally speaking, life without plastics is unthinkable. Whatever else, plastics have brought immeasurable benefits to society in terms of health, safety, energy saving and much more.
Emotions, however, alter the picture. We all know that image has long been a problem for plastics and the plastics industry. Yet the widespread condemnation of the past two or so years is new. And unhappily, until very recently, the industry seemed curiously clueless on how to respond.
In the past, highlighting the positive aspects of plastics and downplaying any negative effects tended to be the favoured approach, with environmentalists more or less firmly relegated to the background.
This, however, did very little to improve the image of plastics or the credibility of the industry, especially when the first images of marine waste and its impact on marine life started to emerge. Public outrage, fed with a constant diet of negative news, has morphed into an unceasing orgy of plastics bashing.
Uncomfortable – and unfair.
And yet, the effect has been galvanising. Pushed by the ongoing plastics debate and consumer demand, pulled by legislation, 2019 became the year that circular thinking landed with a thud – as the K fair in October more than amply evidenced. No other issue dominated the industry as much this year.
Plastics, and specifically, single-use plastics have long been blamed for all that has gone wrong in the environment. Demonisation, however, is not going to fix it. Plastics are not inherently good or evil. They are useful materials, resources, that like any other resource, need to be properly managed, but which, up until now, has not been the case.
This year is nearly gone. But here’s an idea: let’s make closing the plastics divide next year’s goal. It’s a process in which communication and change are key. Plastics have been seen as the problem for long enough. Going forward, let’s instead work on creating the solution: one of which plastics can – and must – be part.