Occassionally my distaste for plastic is met with some type of scorn and confusion by capitalists who style themselves as rugged and pragmatic. "It's cost effective in the short term, what could be wrong?" They haven't hit rock bottom yet.
The problem with this statement is a narrow view of "cost." Insisting that individual human costs are the only ones relevant, we cut ourselves off from the wider truth - we're hurting the community.
Their apparent confusion is confusing to me, because the stuff is obviously appalling to any ecotherapist. Most plastics are clearly designed against all life - that's precisely what makes it so effective as packaging. Of course, these days, there is enthusiasm for biodegradable plastic - but it does not suffice to say "abracadabra." The problem is that to effectively store perishable items, one wishes to protect them from hungry, persistent, self-producing life - to form a barrier whose strength against invasion and corruption should increase with the desired time of storage. The problem is not that we simply haven't yet invented good enough technology - it is that mathematics leads us to suppose there is an inherent "competetion" between our ability to stabilize perishables, and the health of the planet.
Perhaps the simplest "first" guess to describe such a relation would derive from the notion of a conservation "law:" first we divide the living world into "human-stored" or "rigid" parts and "non-owned" or "fluid" parts. Then, supposing a given quantity which describes the health of the system, its "total accessible parts" or "workspace," we have
rigid + fluid = total.
However, it's not quite this simple, since there are some rigid parts which are not actually human owned - things like rocks. Perhaps, an optimist could assume that for every human permutation which hardens living "fluid," wild life softens some non-human "solid." Carried on long enough, this logic would convert the whole vivable planet into self-unconsuming void, so this isn't very optimistic afterall. That is, given finite raw material, a process which consumes it must halt in finite time.
It is indeed the case that ("well-tuned") life tends to soften up hard, dead rock and gradually organize it into a healthy living system. However, it seems that humans have an easier time figuring out how to sabotage life than life does mutating ways to deal with that sabotage. Plastic is the prime example of this. We know some existing life eats plastic - but clearly, it is not evolving this ability (and using it) as quickly as we are turning food-for-many into food-for-almost-nothing. Look to the gyres for clear evidence.
This means that all you have to do to clog up and eventually kill any living system is to introduce a high enough mass of plastic into it. This is what we're doing to our planet right now - to the biosphere, life itself - using fossil fuels which cost millions of years of planetary processes to quickly convert organic material into plastic, that is, healthy matter into less healthy matter. Every piece of plastic you consume makes you complicit in this derailment.
Ordering another to produce it for you doesn't absolve you.
What are you gonna do, look away? You can bury your head in the sand as long as you want, but the longer, the worse it gets. Eventually, the beach is gonna fill up with plastic and you won't be able to dig in the sand any longer without cutting through it.
Or perhaps, "someone else" will deal with your problems for you? Some for-profit scientist, some beneficient capitalist will again rescue us from our own thoughtlessness? Perhaps they will appear with a swell of symphony music from the loudspeakers, and we will hail them as our rightful Ford and savior.
So what then, you just have to pay for your credential to work in the plastic-eating industry? You're still just a peon who can never reach the top - still a contempted, pathetic thing that no one reallywants except insofar as you are profitable to them. You're just there to run the machines someone else made and ordered you to run - still a slave to another's intellect. An epsilon.
As optimism fades into the realization that inventing lifeforms is actually much harder and costlier than destroying them, we have to consider the long term: If we hope to solve the problem of plastic with a plastic-based lifestyle, how long can we continue trying various avenues of research before the search for a solution actually becomes futile - until the health of human-colonized systems diminishes so greatly that we can no longer keep up the research? Until mere survival becomes our overwhelming concern, and our plastic-filled world becomes a fixed assumption?
What happens when we can no longer negotiate our heads through the sand?
I don't know, but it doesn't sound fun.