International Business

Are There Good, Bad, and Ugly Plastics?

Plastic recycling has been on the minds of Americans since the 1970s and the introduction of what many consider the recycling logo found on everything from water bottles to peanut butter jars. The whole idea of cycling has been so prevalent over the last 50 years that you can find tons of information about it online. You can find articles as recent as this one or pieces written decades ago.

A common theme of many of these posts is what writers often refer to as the ‘good, bad, and ugly’ side of plastics. Writers have been known to divide plastic products into those three categories. That is not a bad thing if you’re trying to make some sense of the whole plastic recycling issue. But at the end of the day, is such an analysis legitimate? Are there really good, bad, and ugly plastics? It is a matter of perspective.

1. Good Plastics

There are people on the extreme ends of the plastic recycling debate. The one extreme says that all plastics that cannot be recycled should be banned. The other says we shouldn’t bother attempting to recycle anything at all. Where these two sides clash the most is in the arena of so-called ‘good’ plastics.

Among those who would divide plastics into the three categories, good plastics are those used to make things like cell phones and laptop computers. As the thinking goes, these are good items because they are so necessary to modern life. But are they really? How many billions of people got along just fine before the invention of the cell phone? Ditto for the computer.

Good plastics are only good because they are used to make products that we are not willing to give up. That is really what it boils down to. What you define as a good use of plastic might be considered waste to someone else. And speaking of waste, commercial plastic recycling companies like Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics can recycle a lot of the industrial plastic waste this country produces.

2. Bad Plastics

Moving on, people who are against plastic in any form acknowledge some plastics that make life convenient even though we could still live without them. An often-cited example is the plastic food storage container.

Yes, plastic containers make it easier to store leftovers. They also facilitate lower food prices by enabling mass food production in a factory setting. And yet, some people worry that plastic food containers are poisoning us by leaching chemicals into our leftovers. Such assertions have never been proven, yet they persist.

3. Ugly Plastics

Last but not least are the ugly plastics. What are they? According to the anti-plastic crowd, these are typically single-use items that the world could definitely live without. At the top of the list are plastic grocery bags and straws. Both are considered ugly plastic because they are, by design, wasteful.

It is understandable that someone might think plastic grocery bags are completely unnecessary. After all, you can take your own reusable fabric bags to the market. But let’s be honest. Cell phones are not necessary either. And even if they do make life more convenient, there is no legitimate reason to upgrade every 2 to 3 years.

Whether or not there are good, bad, and ugly plastics is a matter of perspective. So is defining what makes life more convenient or more productive. One man’s cell phone is another man’s plastic grocery bag. Trying to categorize plastics according to need or use is a slippery slope, given that most of us have more plastic in our homes then we even know.