By Heather Nortz
Manager, Sustainability and Materials
It’s difficult to be in the sustainability field without hearing that plastics are “evil”, “toxic”, “exceed the number of fish in the ocean”, the list goes on.
Plastics have also been positioned as synonymous with the waste management problem challenging nations around the world; that has given rise to a narrative which says the solution to that problem is to cut back on production of all plastic products or, in some instances, cease production altogether.
What this perception doesn’t take into account is that plastics help people do almost everything in life. From sending an email to improving infrastructure to curing illnesses, plastics support a wide variety of daily activities.
To go a step further, plastics help to enable many of the sustainability trends and initiatives that are of peak importance to the overall well-being of people and the planet.
That’s right. Plastic is a sustainability enabler.
Relying on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)— seventeen internationally agreed upon top priorities for achieving global sustainability—as an organizational tool, the list below provides examples of how plastics are necessary to making these initiatives possible.
A few clarifications to note before diving in:
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
Plastic aids in agricultural efficiency and growth.
Plastic extends the shelf life of food and facilitates the preparation and serving of food.
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
In the medical field, plastic is vital to numerous treatments and applications.
Plastic also promotes good health and well-being through injury and illness prevention.
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
In a world of social distancing and virtual learning, plastics were a big part of enabling education to continue when in-person schooling was unavailable.
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Plastic is instrumental in providing clean water and sanitation for all. Plastic is used in:
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
To aid in the prosperity of renewable energy and energy efficiency, plastic is used in:
The uses of plastic as a sustainability enabler are often overlooked. Public perception of plastic has been narrowed into a focus on the “plastics are evil” narrative, which is problematic on several levels. First of all, it’s not true. Also, without considering how plastic is essential to achieving widespread sustainability goals, public perception will continue to be misguided. Misguided perceptions, once they become mainstream, easily lead to misguided action by those who have influence on public policy. We’ve already seen it result in legislation such as material bans and plastic production moratoriums that threaten our industry and the livelihoods of families who depend on it.
It is important for anyone who relies on plastic in their lives (I would argue, all of us) to advocate for plastic as a sustainability enabler. I challenge you to bring up these examples, or examples of your own, to your peers, colleagues, friends, and family to begin to broaden the public’s perception of plastics.