It wasn’t too long ago that I read a fascinating article about incorporating plastic waste into infrastructure projects; projects like building roads with asphalt containing recycled plastic binder. Unfortunately, further research led me to an article that had nothing good to say about the plastic-waste-as-infrastructure proposal. I came to realize that we will never solve the plastic problem by trashing every solution that comes along.
Diverting waste plastic into infrastructure is not a perfect solution to the plastic problem. It will also not consume a significantly large portion of plastic waste. But guess what? There is no perfect solution. Getting a handle on plastic waste – if we ever manage to do it – will be the result of multiple solutions being implemented simultaneously.
Not Enough Scientific Data
One of the biggest criticisms against diverting plastic waste to infrastructure problems is an alleged lack of scientific data about the environmental impacts of doing so. But gathering that data could take decades. In the meantime, how many millions of tons of plastic waste will be tossed into landfills or incinerated?
No doubt there is room for scientific research. There is also room for dealing with the data once we have it. But science is not the be-all and end-all of everything we do in modern society. What’s more, science cannot always be trusted.
A recent piece on this very topic published by Mother Jones laments the fact that most of the studies showing support for plastic waste in infrastructure projects comes from industry trade groups and other private organizations. The article claims that very little research has been done by independent researchers.
Here is the dirty little secret: there is no such thing as independent research. All research needs to be paid for, whether it’s through private money or government grants. Therefore, science is for sale. Whoever pays for it tends to get the results they want.
Every Solution Seems to Get Shot Down
I have been covering plastic recycling as a freelance writer for many years. It seems to me that every solution I stumble across during my routine research gets shot down by people who are 100% opposed a plastic in every way, shape, or form. These are people who will not be happy until all plastic is permanently eliminated from the world.
On the other hand, there are companies and other private sector organizations that are doing good work in the fight against plastic pollution. Seraphim Plastics, based in Tennessee, is one such company. They owe their livelihood to the practice of buying industrial plastic waste and converting it into a regrind product they turn around and sell to manufacturers.
What Seraphim Plastics does is considered mechanical recycling. They utilize a very simple process that is both cost effective an easily replicated. It is the process responsible for making PET the most recycled plastic in the world. Unfortunately, the critics have very few things to say about mechanical recycling. They look at every opportunity to shoot it down.
The Solutions Are Out There
I have done enough research into plastic recycling to know that the solutions are out there. It is a simple matter of finding them. The biggest challenge to doing so is getting past critics who will not settle for anything short of a full and total plastic ban. But that’s not going to happen. And there is no perfect solution.
Diverting plastic waste to infrastructure projects could help reduce the amount of plastic we throw away. But we will never know if we allow the proposal to be shot down without giving it a fair chance at success.