The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 7, 2009

Plastic – What is it good for?

This morning, I had a telephone conversation with a plastics industry insider who runs a web site dedicated to supporting plastics professionals. Greg from is a nice guy. Very sincere. And surprisingly, we found many more areas of agreement than probably either of us expected.

I won’t go into the details of the conversation in this post, except to tell you that I expressed to him my major concerns with plastic: non-biodegradable waste from disposable plastic containers and packaging; chemicals that can leach from plastics and the fact that those chemicals are not disclosed to consumers; harm to wildlife, etc. Greg shared with me his views and expressed that he has some of the same environmental concerns that I do.

Now we’d like your input.

What do you see as the major problems with plastic?

What uses for plastic (if any) are necessary and beneficial to society?

Would you like to see a world without any plastic at all? What would that look like?

Do you trust the plastics industry to tell you the truth about their products? Why or why not?

Do you trust the American Chemistry Council to tell you the truth?

What questions would you ask a plastics professional if you could?

What role do you think the plastics industry should play in solving the environmental problems associated with plastic?

What else would you like to share?

As you know if you’ve read this blog a long time, I’m not out to demonize anyone or any product. But I’ve seen the harm caused by the over-consumption and misuse of plastic, and while my personal environmental efforts have broadened to include other issues, reduction of harm from plastic pollution (out in the world and inside our bodies) continues to be my main passion and purpose.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m hoping we can begin a real, honest dialogue with the manufacturers and purveyors of plastic.

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Can anyone answer this question for me. Why are we trying to reduce the plastic for? why are people throughing waste on the highway and people leaving tires everywhere?

terry@Car Accident Injury Claim

Plastic based products would have a higher carbon sequestration value than wood, which would be good because the carbon in plastic is tied up for thousands of years. And plastic does not pollute, it is a very inert substance which means it does not dissolve or react with anything in our environment.


What makes me nuts is the uniformed critic. Don’t trust the plastics’ industry, but trust any blogger who tells you that toxins are leeching out of plastic – they’re not. Don’t believe the plastics industry if you don’t want to, but where are the lawyers filing lawsuits all over the US if plastics are so toxic? You know they would! Everything in your life is made better with plastics. For a generation that lives in athletic shoes (heaven forbid you call them sneakers) you don’t even realize what your life would be without plastic, yet you think somehow it will… Read more »

Beth Terry

Dear Anonymous, you have a lot to say. I'd be happy to have an actual conversation with you and answer some of your many questions. Unfortunately, I don't know who you are. I'd be happy for you to leave a way for us to contact you. I don't blog anonymously, and it would be nice if you didn't comment anonymously.


earlier on, i commented that plastic is too cheap and that is why it is used too much. on his blog, the plastics specialist said plastic is eco because it takes less energy to produce and that's why it's cheap; i would add that plastic is made of petroleum and that's why it's cheap!

Supriya Doshi

I don't think that getting rid of plastic altogether would solve the problem. In the end, it seems like the issue is more waste than anything. Things like plastic bags and disposable razors aren't necessary products, rather just a creation that caters to our desire for ease. Unfortunately, these things aren't going to go away anytime soon. We are so used to the convenience of plastic products that I imagine they'll only multiply. But as long as there are people out there that care and spread the word about the negative aspects of plastic, there's always hope!


Plastic….plastic…and more plastic, someone said we will be known as having lived in the “Plastics Age.” I hope that we will be known as the innovators who developed plastics that made our live better and innovators that made plastics that didn’t hurt future generations. We have come a long way with developing new applications for plastic, now we need to develop plastic that is safe. Plastics should be designed to be sustainable, plastic products should be designed to meet a “Cradle to Cradle” criterion. I believe that all plastics can be made biodegradable. The idea is to make something, use… Read more »

Erin aka Conscious Shopper

Beth – I posted my responses to your questions on my own blog at

Love that you're engaged in this kind of conversation with a plastics professional. You're so awesome!


Greg Koski is a great guy as are most plastics industry professionals. Read Greg's blog post that Beth Terry mentions above. But also check out this blog — . It features "what's it good for" posts quite a bit. Just click on the "Beneficial Uses" category. One aspect nobody has mentioned here is all the environmetal and sustainability benefits that plastics provides fron bioplastics (made from corn, potato and other bio-based materials)to the plastics that are absolutely essential to windmills, fuel-efficient automobiles, solar panels and much more.


I would like to add that I think plastic is a terrible waste of a precious resource, oil. And then we just throw it "away," where it stays forever.

That said, I think some medical and safety uses for plastic are essential. (Even though, when plastic is trash, it is unhealthy and unsafe.) Now that we've achieved so much with technology, I think we can refine our progress even more to make sure we're using the best materials for the best processes. And the decider of the "best materials" shouldn't be the industry that provides them.


Beth Terry

Check it out. Greg from has responded to these questions with his own blog post. Keep in mind he is a plastics professional. Still, he does recognize some of the same problems that we do:

why not go over there and respond to his post with your own thoughts? Or ask questions?

knutty knitter

I look at the paper bags of sweets we make up to sell and then I look at the commercial made up plastic bags that we also sell and I think "Why?"

I was on a course today – just a work thing – nothing special but we did get morning, afternoon tea and lunch. Real crockery and silverware through out. Not a piece of plastic anywhere. I am glad the plastic stuff never made it here to any great extent.

Small mercies add up!

viv in nz

Nat Brazil

Hi all, I'm the plastics professionalal that talked with Beth, really enjoyed it. I think we agree more than disagree. And the same goes for many of your comments.

I've addressed our conversation and many of your questions on my blog, link above.

Please feel free to drop in. The public is also welcome in our forums where you can ask many plastics professionals various questions.

Hope to see you there. Thanks Beth!


i think the problem with plastic is that it is too cheap and that is why most products are packaged with it when there are corn bags for example that look like plastic bags that are biodegradable.
still, i wouldn't like to live without plastic: it is necessary in medicine and i never heard of a plastic allergy – i don't know about people working in making plastics; if plastics are used responsibly they are very useful; still it should be compulsory to not throw plastics in the garbage can just like it is with non-rechargeable batteries

Pure Mothers

Someone mentioned soy based plastics. That would concern me too, as most soy is GMO. What would that do to our water once it got into the water table. Have you read about Morgellon's Disease? Not a fan of Franken foods.

Pure Mothers

My main issue with plastic is that it doesn't biodegrade. I think the plastics industry needs to come up with alternatives. Something used for a few minutes should never stay on the earth forever. It's mostly disposable plastic that concerns me, although I would love alternatives to plastic found in items like computers, on cars and hospital equipment. No, I don't trust the chemical industry to tell us the truth. (You read the leaked memo!) Just like I don't trust the pharmaceutical industry to tell me the truth. Too high profits at stake and strong lobbyists with deep pockets on… Read more »

Lara S.

My answers to your questions are similar to what other readers have said.I'd like to add this:I think the plastic industry should be making full toxicity tests for every product, to control leaking of chemicals into food (if it's used for food packaging), into bodies (if it's used in fabrics for clothes, etc), and also into air, water and soil so as to monitor the whole cycle of the plastic even if it ends up in a landfill, an incinerator or the sea. Each product should have disposal recommendations for it to be safe, and those recommendations should come from… Read more »

Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama

I would like to see a world with a lot less plastic – particularly less single use plastic. We don't need disposable cutlery, dishes, cups. We also don't need single use plastic containers for our food, cleaning products or beauty products. We particularly do not need single use disposable toothbrushes, or plastic beads in our body scrubs. There are some uses of plastic for which I am thankful – car safety seats come to mind having been in a car accident with my child. I think there are medical uses which cannot yet be made without plastic, some safety equipment,… Read more »

Cherie Wilkinson

I'm in line with Angie here.
Working in a lab I know plastic is a necessity, you just aren't able to reuse things, even with the utmost hygiene there's just too greater risk for contamination.
I foresee plastics being weeded out anyway, as the cost increases (oil prices). Until it's going to be completely uneconomical for companies to use it for packaging.

Death to everyday plastic. Sustainable plastics where required (labs and medical).


What do you see as the major problems with plastic? The fact that it is basically here for ever. It will get smaller but it will not “go away” for a very very long time. It leaches chemicals into our bodies that we know aren’t safe. What uses for plastic (if any) are necessary and beneficial to society? I think people often sight medical needs as a forum in which plastic is necessary and beneficial. A lot of medical problems were dealt with using glass or other natural materials. Could we look into using other materials before and instead of… Read more »

Martin at PlasticLess

What uses for plastic (if any) are necessary and beneficial to society?

I once wrote a post about the plastics used in health care. I gave it the title Awful Plastic Surgery because I am desperate for traffic (desperate I tell you!)

Single use sterile items have probably saved a lot of lives over the years and they are probably more cost effective that using an autoclave on glass and steel for everything. Individuals can reduce plastic in this area by living healthy lives and not using the health care system more than necessary.


1. What do you see as the major problems with plastic? Plastic never goes away once trashed, and it was made by some scientist in some lab. 2. What uses for plastic (if any) are necessary and beneficial to society? Life saving uses, of course. Like the plastic bags used for IVs. And technological uses that help us learn more. Hopefully, I'll be able to use a Mac one day, free of guilt and plastic.3. Would you like to see a world without any plastic at all? What would that look like? I would like to see a world without… Read more »


The thing I fear most about plastic is the way it can slip into any ecosystem and masquerade as something it is not, primarily food. The bird swallowing the bottle cap or plankton mistaking microscopic bits of plastic as food are example of this most insidious effect. Once plastic has lost the form it received from manufacturing, the whole idea of classification by number within the recycling symbol collapses. So, my priority would be the prevention of breakdown except under controlled conditions, the object being to do all we can to keep the stuff from escaping. That would mean better… Read more »


What do you see as the major problems with plastic? I’m prepared to say that the problem is not with plastic per se but with how we as a society choose to use and abuse it without regard to: -Disposal issues – persistence and nondegradability, small pieces that end up in wildlife, leaching -Pervasive use as a first choice due to cost savings resulting in decreased durability (a recent experience with broken bathroom faucet fitting comes to mind here) or simply a lot of cheap junk – Inability to full cycle (cradle to cradle) many of plastics What uses for… Read more »


Why do they line the metal cans & lids with #7 or any plastic? It seems like just yesterday that lead was removed from cans. We have stopped using canned people food & pet food because of the plastic lining. It's really unfair that it's in the lids too, because my dogs like some chicken or turkey (very plain) baby food stirred into their dry food, & I'm thrilled with the glass jars, but disgusted with the metal lids! (I do make sure the jars & lids get reused by craft people or myself or at least recycled).Thanks for your… Read more »


-What do you see as the major problems with plastic? My problems with plastic is its manufacturing process and the chemicals it releases and the effect it has on wildlife. Also the fact that it is everywhere and things like turtles eat it and die and things like that but that is not necessarily plastics fault it is the way people use it and just throw it around, but part of that problem is its over use. Just like so many other things we humans find something and use it to death, quite literally in this example. Do things really… Read more »


I think it's the ubiquity of plastic which makes it a problem. If plastic was confined to the medical field and as components in cars and airplanes, that would be a pretty good world. Its ubiquity is what makes things like BPE toxicity and the Pacific Garbage Patch a problem. If it wasn't used in just about everything for sale at the grocery store, if it became a rare item on the consumer market, I'd consider that a win. I don't trust plastics manufacturers to tell the unvarnished truth, any more than any other manufacturer. They have a vested interest… Read more »


The main problems with plastic are 1) the chemicals that leach from them and therefore cause health issues and 2) the long-term litter or disposal problem. Many plastics have a useful life of a few minutes or hours. Then they hang around fouling the environment for centuries. Plastics can be beneficial when we need lightweight flexible materials, such as with medical needs. I don't that the world should be plastic-free. The plastic we use should be harmless to us and the environment. It should bio-degrade. I do not trust the plastics/chemical industry because they fight cities that try to be… Read more »


What do you see as the major problems with plastic? 1. the reliance on it as first option for so much manufacturing an packaging and 2. how it doesn't biodegrade What uses for plastic (if any) are necessary and beneficial to society? medical and housing uses Would you like to see a world without any plastic at all? What would that look like? I would be happy in a world where plastic biodegraded and was used much less, but a world without plastic isn't hard to imagine, just look at old pictures where they used natural resources. That'd what it… Read more »


I agree with you for the most part on plastic- I think part of the problem is our throw away society. I see ne need or use for plastic sofa bottles, and I think water in bottles for $1 for a 16 oz. drink of tap water is strange. Bottled water has a place for use in emergencies, but really how hard is it to take a stainless steel reuseable bottle?I dont trust the plastic industry any more than I trust any corporate industry telling me how good their product is. Remember I am a smoker. I have been lied… Read more »

John Costigane

Hi Beth, My bugbear is the unthinking use of plastic packaging in particular, as it is the most obvious offender. Landfill, and the more recent EfW Incineration, are direct results of its unsustainable uses. Zero Waste, for me, is an attack on the associated throwaway attitude where no thought is given to the waste produced, by supermarkets mainly. Sustainable plastic, in the true sense, would produce little waste and help end the throwaway society. Health issues are worth addressing and I fully support your posts on the matter. BisPhenol A, and the heat associated with baby's milk bottle, form a… Read more »


I think the biggest problem with plastic is that it stays around forever and isn't laterally recyclable. So when we use plastics frivolously it ends up in a big swirl in the ocean. I think there is a place for plastics in this world. I certainly think they've done a world of god for the medical and information industries, and I personally would not want to live in a world without computers, IV lines or waterproof boots (especially this summer – my god is it ever going to stop raining?). I do trust people to tell the truth, alas all… Read more »


Hi Beth and others :) Here's my input: What do you see as the major problems with plastic? They are here forever. And the concern of the toxicity of them. What uses for plastic (if any) are necessary and beneficial to society? plastics are beneficial to a lot of aspects of our culture. I'd say medical, technology, transportation. Can we live without plastics in those areas? Sure. Do we want to? No. The thing is, the majority of the uses could be replaced by something biodegradable or more earth friendly. I'm no expert on medical grade plastics but I'd think… Read more »


The thing that bothers me the most about plastic is how much of it is just a waste. Plastic bags to hold units of blood at the blood bank? Great, do it, it's worth it. Giant impenetrable plastic clamshells wrapped around a product like a USB drive? I'm much less happy about that. To me, where there is an alternative, we should be minimizing our use of (and reliance on) plastic. My main concerns are (1) persistence in the environment and (2) possible leaching of chemicals into our bodies from things like food wraps (or from things like fish that… Read more »


1) Same as you, the fact that once it is created it doesn't disappear.2) medical, and safety equipment seem like the most obvious, but I am sure there are others3)I don't know that a world without plastic would be smart, plus I don't imagine computers will ever stop running the world now that we have let them start4)no, but I don't really trust any industry to tell me the whole truth if it cuts into their profits5)ditto6)I don't have many questions, I guess I figure they do their job and I do mine?7)and integral, from the development forward if they… Read more »


I think I agree with you on the major problems with plastic – the prevalence of a non-biodegradable, potentially toxic substance that can harm wildlife and maybe people, too. There are some medical uses of plastic that are probably necessary, or at least would be very difficult without plastic. IV tubing springs to mind as something that would be hard to replicate without plastic. I would certainly like to see a world with much LESS plastic than we have. I think it would involve people taking more responsibility for bringing their own…whatever. Dishes, cutlery, bags, napkins, just everything. I don't… Read more »