Ask the EcoGeek: Durable Bio-Plastics


Dear EcoGeek,
Have there been any developments in the pursuit of sustainable, cost-effective alternatives to plastics? I am aware of the recent gains in using corn starch to produce biodegradible plastics (chocolate candy trays, shopping bags, etc.), but what about durable goods such as toolboxes, exercise equipment, or any other product made from plastic that is designed to last.
Thanks for your time and expertise.

Hey Jim,
It does seem a bit silly that we wouldn't solve two problems at once here. I mean, as long as we're removing oil from the process, why don't we move away from our foolish disposable-everything culture as well?

But this all becomes more clear if we ask a different question. Instead of "why aren't there durable bio-plastics?" we should first ask "what's wrong with durable petro-plastics?" Lets start by listing the reasons why oil sucks.1. We will eventually run out
2. When we burn it, it creates CO2
3. When we throw away petro-plastic, it pretty much never biodegrades and can harm wildlife
4. Refining oil is energy intensive and produces toxic chemicals
5. We often have to import it from places with unstable politics

Now, those are five really good reasons to stop burning oil. Taken together, I can't quite figure out why we're still burning the stuff. But when we talk about disposable plastics, the second problem, that of carbon dioxide, isn't a problem anymore, so only four problems remain. And when we list reasons for replacing durable products, the list gets even shorter.

We don't burn it, we don't throw it away, and even if we do, it would persist as much as petro-plastics. Plus, the demand for durable petro-plastics is considerably lower than the demand for fuel and disposable plastic. Because we're talking about fewer petrochemicals in total, all of the above problems are diminished. In fact, creating durable plastics is pretty much the most intelligent use of oil, as we gain permanent benefits from the items we produce and the environmental consequences are much less significant.

That being said, the world would probably be better off if we figured out ways to completely erase our need for oil. And some people have begun creating durable plastics from biological stock. There's no technical reason why we can't do it. But there are fewer economic and ecological reasons to replace durable plastics than disposable plastics.

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