Plastics and Other Materials in the Environment 

by Michael Cleverly

Factories produce millions of tons of plastic every year which are turned into a variety of products, including single use items. Consumers purchase and use these items and either throw them away when they’re done or place them in the recycling bin. Some products become new products while others remain unused.

Different types of plastics exist and these products are made out of various plastics. Typically only three plastic types sent to materials recovery facilities get reused. For plastics to be reused, a company buys the plastic to use to create new products. Some of these plastics are considered too expensive to reuse. These unused plastics can end up in the environment where they can break down into microplastics and sometimes toxic materials that can cause damage to plants, animals and sometimes humans.

Dr. Gathany, Professor of Biology at Cedarville University, said, “A lot of people don’t realize where plastics come from. It’s all pulled out of petroleum based products.”

These downsides cause some people to search for plastic alternatives, such as bamboo, seaweed and silicone. Companies use these alternatives to create products and packaging that are biodegradable. However, these alternatives also have problems.

Certain cities in the United States banned plastic straws and started using paper and stainless steel straws. Paper straws collapse during the process of using them and stainless steel straws are only useful if people reuse them. Bamboo is a good material but since it has to be cut down and imported, emissions from shipping might outweigh the benefits and caution needs to be taken to prevent overharvesting.

The use of plastics probably won’t disappear soon because they still have some advantages over alternatives. Creating plastic products can be cheaper than alternatives. For example a plastic bag costs 3-4 cents less to create than a paper bag. Some alternatives also create more of other types of pollution and consume more energy in the creation process. As an example, creating paper bags takes more energy and glass bottles don’t cost much more than plastic ones but since they’re heavier more energy is used during the shipping process.

In light of this, the goal should be to put less plastic into the environment by purchasing products that we can use repeatedly. Making little decisions everyday to remove products from personal consumption can have a larger impact over time. However, consumers shouldn’t be over concerned about what products they buy. 

“You don’t have to turn on a dime overnight, just do the next right thing,” Gathany said.“ Everybody’s in different places, so there’s no one next right thing.”

Christians are called to be good stewards of God’s creation. As Christians there are multiple ways to approach the issue of plastics. Some people may feel called to be an activist speak up about it while others may just try to consume less plastic.

“There’s a line out there but the line isn’t fixed,” Gathany said.  

Michael Cleverley is a sophomore Journalism major with an Asian Studies minor and writer for Cedars. When not studying or working on a story for Cedars he likes to write, knit and hang out with friends.

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