by E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow Greg Walcher
As appearing in The Daily Sentinel
I often write about where things come from, especially products we use in our daily lives, and what they are made of. No consumer products are made out of thin air. They all require manufacturing from raw materials that are either found, mined, or grown. In all cases, the raw elements are eventually returned back to the earth when we are finished.
Some elements are harder to find, requiring drilling or mining, as opposed to raising plants and animals. And some elements recycle back to nature faster than others. Plants and trees decay rapidly, most metals within a few years, whereas plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade. Thus, some trash far outlasts us, with a much greater environmental impact, especially plastic.
Plastic has revolutionized the economy. It is cheap, easy to make, versatile, waterproof, and used in almost everything. Two thirds of all plastic is used for packaging, and for building materials, including plumbing, wiring, siding, decking, and windows. Cars are 20% plastic. Computers and cell phones are mostly plastic. So is much of our furniture, clothing, food containers, and medical supplies.