What If We Stopped Using Plastic?

What If?

Americans throw away about 32 million tons of plastic every year according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s equivalent to more than 700,000 humpback whales, just sitting in our landfills for centuries to come. So we wondered, what if we stopped using plastic?

Plastics have become such an essential part of our lives that it is almost impossible not to be in arms-length of a plastic made object at any given time. The reason we love plastics so much is for its durability. But that durability coupled with the way we dispose of it, is also what potentially makes it our worst enemy.

“Right now half of all plastic produced goes to single use packaging and products. Some of those are really valuable, like syringes, but we don’t need a straw with every Coke,” says Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. “There’s a lot of ways in which we use plastics for trivial purposes that’s convenient, but convenience comes with an environmental cost.”

Living a plastic-free life certainly sounds like an environmentalist’s dream, as we would see less of it filling our landfills and polluting our oceans, but we could be paying the price in other areas.

“If we stop using plastics all together and replace them with alternative materials we'd pay a higher price in energy usage, in water usage and in CO2 generation in many, many different products,” says Mike Biddle, Founder of MBA Polymers and President of Waste Free Oceans Americas. That’s because it’s cheaper to re-purpose plastic than it is to create something from scratch even though it would eventually break-down.

The elimination of plastic from our lives would also mean a stronger dependence on other materials like glass, paper and steel.

“There's no such thing as an immaculate consumption, you always leave a footprint. And using all these other materials like paper or metals, also has an impact on the environment,” says Anthony Andrady, Adjunct Professor of Chemical and Biomolecule Engineering at North Carolina State University. “We can certainly go back to a lifestyle where there are no plastics, but it would be a much more difficult and much more expensive lifestyle to live.”

Host: Dan Kloeffler
Producer, DP: David Fazekas,
Associate Producer: Stefan Doyno
Editor: Maurice Abbate