by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
In the 1967 Oscar-winning film, The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman’s character weighs various potential careers. One neighbor famously advises him about a great future with “One word: plastics.” At the time, it was a clever satire, since there was nothing new about plastics as an industry, and no recent graduate would consider such a boring industry as the ideal career. Indeed, most people in the 1960s considered plastic a cheap substitute for quality products made of more respectable materials like steel, leather, and wood.
Today, we more commonly associate plastics with innovative technology, and we recognize it as an essential component of almost everything in our lives. It is so pervasive that we forget what common products used to be made from. Today, cars have a small quantity of metal alloys in their outer skin and inner engine, but the rest is largely made of various plastics. In the 1930s, sometimes known as the golden age of the automobile, cars were made almost entirely of wood, steel, leather, rubber, and cotton.
Modern Americans worry about the impact of plastics — which are made mostly from petroleum — on the environment, especially on landfills, oceans, and wildlife. Ironically, they often turn to the animal kingdom for substitute materials to replace plastic.