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Plastics: A Love-Hate Affair

Posted October 04, 2008 8:06 AM

For all the negative press about plastics, it may be tempting to think of the ubiquitous material as the rebellious teenager of a wholesome marriage of naturally occurring fibers, metals, or glass. Plastics' reputation, in fact, led one BBC reporter to try forgoing — and ultimately failing — a month without the devilish material at all. It also led another BBC reporter to defend plastics through a review of its history and present-day, often overlooked, applications, from pen caps to medical drug delivery devices. The two different reports pit oil consumption used in plastics manufacturing against sustainability. And the middle road — wise and waste-free use of plastics — seems to be the winner.

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#1

Re: Plastics: A Love-Hate Affair

10/05/2008 10:18 AM

I agree.

I work with HDPE [High Density Poly Ethelene] and find it a versatile and sustainable material.

Then there's LDPE [Low Density PE] and UDPE [Ultra Density PE].

Best thing is that the end products are extruded at low temperatures and the native material has no adverse human reactions.

As engineers we can 'see through walls' and into situations where PE may substitute iron and cement which are big polluters.

While I'm on the subject, look up 'Wirand' from Maccaferri - it is a substitute for steel in concrete.

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#2

Re: Plastics: A Love-Hate Affair

10/05/2008 8:58 PM

I am more of a latex man myself

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#3

Re: Plastics: A Love-Hate Affair

10/06/2008 9:55 AM

I can see how the first reporter failed in trying to eliminate plastics from his daily use. Plastics is really a very broad, generic term that covers a range of materials that consist of organic based, long-chain molecules, capable of starting out as, or becoming, a liquid or semi-solid and then be shaped through some type of molding or extrusion process. Then they retain their shape after the manufacturing process is complete. The term plastics include epoxies, urethanes, thermosetting plastics, and thermoplastics. They even include the insulation covering wires and circuit boards. In college I used a 1923 Underwood typewriter that used plastics (probably Bakelite, a phenol formaldehyde material developed in the early 20th century). The reporter couldn't use any electronic device or any form of transportation. Even the water he drank may have come through plastic pipes. His clothing would have to be all natural wool, cotton, leather, etc. Unless he would move in with a remote tribe in the Amazon rain forest, or some other extremely remote location, he would almost certainly be dependent on something that almost certainly uses plastic as part of its composition.

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#4

Re: Plastics: A Love-Hate Affair

10/06/2008 4:42 PM

Who can forget the advice young Dustin Hoffman's character received in the movie "The Graduate", circa 1967: "Plastics!"

I took this advice in the 90's (I even joined and went to meetings of the SPE), although one of my friends from Holland who ended up becoming active in Greenpeace tended to view the factory I worked at in Upstate, NY with much sketicism. My friend even took a tour of my workplace. Sometimes work and friendships can make strange connections.

Also from the late 90's I can also remember Mercede's "Smart" vehicle making the cover of Crane's Plastics News hardcopy magazine, during its initial concept days, and processors in both Europe and the U.S. were lining up to be part of this project.

Seems like it would be a good thing to conserve oil for use in plastics, especially for lightweight vehicles like the Smart car. I try and recycle as much as I can on a personal level, and wish I could recycle more plastics (water bottles, juice bottles, etc.), but in New York at the moment, it's not part of our deposit program.

Ireland and India seem to be leading the way with regard to recycling of those lightweight plastic bags you get from retail stores like Walmart. My car's exhaust got jammed up a week ago (burning smell to the cabin let me know I had a problem) from one of those bags when it came in from the road, and all I could do (after I paid the bill for the mechanic to scrub my exhaust clean) was think about Ireland's highways being free of those bags!

Not sure where we'd get the raw material to produce all the plastics we enjoy if we ran out of oil. I don't think all the recycling in the world could replace the plastics derived from oil.

- Larry

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#5

Re: Plastics: A Love-Hate Affair

11/14/2008 4:23 PM

I think the thing that amazes me the most about the "bad rap" our industry is receiving at this point is lack of technical depth behind it. There is too much wasted energy being applied to finger-pointing at the production end, and society is failing miserably at focusing on plastics' recycling potential.

Are we failing as an industry to educate the public on the many advantages that plastics have to offer? Or is the information just falling on deaf ears?

It is my hope to see plastics recycling become a public and industry standard as a whole. I intend to utilize my time to be one of the individuals working towards seeing this come to fruition..this topic has become important enough to me to cause me to jump ship..leaving the security of a process/robotics engineering job to help establish recycling protocols in Michigan, my home...which currently is at the lowside of recycling efforts in comparison to the national average.

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