RICKTER SCALE: Plastic continues to solve most of our problems

Plastic is a willing substitute for much heavier elements we use in our everyday life

Plastic gets a bad rap.

It started in the 1960s when, despite its multitude of miraculous functions, plastic became a euphemism for phoney. The Jefferson Airplane even had a hit in 1967 with Plastic Fantastic Lover which, ironically, they released on vinyl, a close cousin of plastic.

Sure, we’ve all had those moments when things fall apart and leave you muttering cheap plastic crap, but despite those occasional breakups, I prefer to sing the praises of this inexpensive, durable substance that comes in any colour you can imagine including invisible or clear, as plastic purists call it.

Recently, however, this marvel of modern molecular chemistry has been targeted as a problem poster child by environmental warriors because of its link to the evil petroleum. But consider how much more fossil fuels or other forms of energy would be consumed if vehicles had to revert back to replacing their plastic parts with heavy metals.

And don’t get me started on airplanes, which probably couldn’t afford the fuel it costs to fly us around without the weight saved by converting key components to plastic. That also includes the extra luggage they charge us for, many of which, I feel obliged to point out, is made of sturdy, lightweight plastic, including the wheels that come attached to something we can now roll that we used to have to carry.

Ask yourself how many frightened firs, petrified pine and scared seedless cedars are spared from having the pulp beat out of them because we’ve converted to plastic for most of our cash transactions, instead of using paper for pesos, pounds,Euros and dollars named bill.

Plastic is a willing substitute for much heavier elements we use in our everyday life, with a flexibility you won’t find in most metals and woods.

Ponder, for a moment, the ramifications of a plastic-free picnic. Imagine the weight of what you lug to the park if you couldn’t use plastic coolers refrigerated by plastic ice packs, and filled with plates, cups, glasses, bowls, forks, knives and spoons, all made of plastic. And finally, consider the state of that sandwich would be in by the time you get around to eating it if it wasn’t bagged or wrapped in plastic.

So join me, as I pound away on this keyboard consisting mostly of plastic, and take a moment to pay homage to Alexander Parkes, who patented the first plastic substance, parkesine, in Birmingham, England in 1856. That invention was unveiled at the Great International Exhibition in 1862 and won a bronze medal at the World’s Fair in London in 1862. Too bad plastic was in its infancy back then, or they could have replaced the medal they gave Parkes, the original man from Glad, with a much more practical plastic plaque. A far more appropriate award, considering the circumstances.



Rick Stiebel is a Sooke resident.