You might not expect an interview with an environmental activist to include comments like "Plastic can be an incredibly reusable, resilient, sustainable material." But that's the case with David de Rothschild, who is now pitching his new book "Plastiki: Across the Pacific on Plastic: An Adventure to Save Our Oceans." Joe Fassler has a nice Q&A interview with Rothschild on The Atlantic's web site today. I've blogged about Rothschild's mission before -- about the little boat made of recycled PET bottles, and about his effort to promote a recycled PET resin called Seretex. So we won't cover that again. But the entire interview is very much focused on plastics, so I'll encourage you to click the link, while teasing you with a couple of the questions and Rothschild's answers: Why do you think the plastic industry hasn't tapped into long-term use for its plastics? Wouldn't it make their own products more valuable? "No. It's the high-volume, high-consumption model. The margins on a straw, say, are tiny. They want to sell 60 billion straws every year to make their profits, as opposed to something where you buy one, and that's it. It's not in the interest of the plastic industry to make products that are reusable and last longer when they're making money on high-volume, low-margin products, and churn, and consumption. It's an age-old problem: we live in a disposable society. At one point, it was a sign of affluence, I guess. These days, we've become highly suspicious of hygiene--so we use plastic forks once and throw them out. And we're hooked on convenience." It's interesting that plastic is both villain and hero of your story. Yes, plastic's a dangerous, ubiquitous pollutant--but it's also a useful industrial material with vast untapped sustainable-design potential. How should we feel about it? "I think we have to recognize that plastic's not going to disappear any time soon, and we've got learn to live with the consequences of our modern materials. Plastic can be an incredibly reusable, resilient, sustainable material. It can be the right material. Look at the number of applications--you're sitting on a plastic phone, writing notes on a plastic computer, using a plastic pen to draw up some other notes. When you look around, you see how ubiquitous it is. It's probably the most ubiquitous of all man-made materials."
David de Rothschild's balanced look at plastics
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