It's the season of awkwardness.
I'm sure most of us have had that moment, when we're in a large group setting and a topic comes up and you have to decide whether to speak up.
I'm not talking politics and that moment at the dinner table when someone brings up the election or debates, but rather that point when you're at community gathering and someone brings up plastics. And how “toxic” or “bad for the planet” they are and how we should “never use them.”
(Never mind that the speaker may be drinking out of a plastic cup or using a plastic fork or trying to back up their argument using a smartphone that relies on plastic parts, is charged through a charger with a plastic cable and relies on a whole global information technology system that wouldn't exist without manmade materials.)
How do you respond? Do you speak up and defend the industry in general? Point to a specific instance where plastics actually are helping to save the planet — “Hey, how's your Smart Car? You know, the one with lightweight plastic body panels?”
Or do you let it slide, figuring there's nothing you can do that can change that person's mind.
I bring it up because I was recently at a volunteer gig I do on the side, when one of the other volunteers began lecturing everyone on how they needed to remove the cap from the water bottles we collected at the end of the night because they couldn't be recycled.
Knowing both that the Association of Plastic Recyclers has been running a multi-year effort to try and get people to do exactly the opposite (read Jim Johnson's latest update on the project here) and that recyclers can find buyers for recycled polypropylene caps, I pointed out that recyclers prefer the caps stay on.
“That's not true,” the other volunteer said.
That used to be the case, I pointed out, but the technology and the market has changed. Our city collects PP now, and has for a few years.
“People should just throw them out. We shouldn't even be using plastic anyway. We should get rid of it all.”
I agreed that there were some single-use plastic items that really didn't make sense, but once they're out in use, doesn't it make more sense to recycle them and reuse them again and again rather than just having them go to waste?
You can guess the other volunteer's response wasn't pro-plastic. Much like those uncomfortable family political discussions, some people just aren't open to changing their point of view. Maybe it had just been a waste of energy to try and change her mind.
But on the other hand, one person after that did say that he was glad to hear that things have changed.
“That's interesting. I didn't know that,” he said. “Thanks.”
A holiday miracle? No. Just a chance to share information during a friendly discussion.
But for the record, if anyone brings up politics at our family dinner, I'm going to find a quick excuse to leave the room.