Walter Bobruk (in his June 13, Page 6 letter headlined “Plastics are not here to stay”) seems to suggest that for us to go forward may involve going backward, to natural materials instead of plastics. He cites predictions of the end of the age of oil and natural gas.
While forecasters expect steadily tightening supplies and rising prices for oil and natural gas, these substances are not about to disappear altogether. Plastics will continue to account for a small fraction of the world's consumption of them and add more value than does burning them for heat or transportation. As the supply situation worsens, rising costs may well cause some molders and extrusion processors to lose business — but it will not be because consumers have a longing to go back to the metal trash cans and wicker laundry baskets that Mr. Bobruk singles out for praise.
Where did he get his plastic trash cans, anyway? Only two years of use? My Rubbermaid trash cans go back at least 15 years. As for wicker baskets — no thanks!
The future that he describes, “without CD players and DVDs, when all entertainment is digital and free by broadcast satellite to your home or moped or bicycle or personal computer …,” sounds pretty good to me. But we will need plastics to make it happen. Plastics will be the material of choice for transcribing, archiving and transmitting that entertainment, and plastics will be the only practical material for receivers of all types—even when integrated in mopeds or bicycles.
Besides, what if we want to preserve, for personal use, some of that digital entertainment from space? Will we use recorders made of wood or metal? And what about the media? Every mass-produced recording medium since the first Kodak film has been made of plastics.
While the demise of plastics is not imminent, there is trouble ahead. But that does not mean that consumers—including the hundreds of millions of newly empowered consumers in China and elsewhere—would welcome substitutes for plastics. For the moment, we could save large quantities of fossil fuels through conservation and development of alternate energy sources. What the plastics industry needs now is statesmanlike political leadership, not an undertaker.
I once heard science fiction writer Isaac Asimov tell an audience that technological progress, once achieved, cannot be taken back. Maybe this was his version of the Pandora's Box story, but, for good or ill, I think he was right.
Martino Communications Inc.