A container ship was carrying 78 tons of plastic and other cargo when it caught fire on the way to Singapore. The plastic spill in Sri Lanka made the mainstream media.
A Washington Post article focuses on the plastic. Twitter has lots of tweets. I suggest we read the tweets or comments. One calls plastics a "slow-motion disaster," and another wants to ban them all. Most assume toxicity of the plastics (which are not further defined, but must be polyethylene or polypropylene as it floats).
The Post article mentions contamination/absorption with toxic substances and mentions nitric acid as cargo. The word "acid" is scary, despite the acidity of vinegar, citrus and soft drinks. Numbers don't matter and are often a threat to the committed.
Comments escalate to condemnation of all big industry, destruction of local fishing, vilification of global trade and more. Nothing in the article nor the comments that I read says that these (and all) plastics are not toxic. As for the nitric acid, nitrates are notoriously soluble in water and thus in extreme dilution once they leak into the sea. No one explains that 78 tons are four truckloads, unwanted on the beach for sure, but not enough to "blanket" miles of pristine scenery as implied.
In contrast, the BBC reported that it was fuel oil that covered the beaches, noted the nitric acid, but didn't mention plastics at all! The Post was telling its readers what they want to hear.
There is no one to bell this cat (Aesop's fable). I want to know why readers want to hear that plastics are bad. The Post article is not fake news, but it is elastic truth, that fits the image of the readers. My explanation of the reader images is based on our origin as infants in a world where nothing can be explained and further conditioned by a childhood of make-believe. Rational thinking and the related science are only later learned by a few who don't trust in magic, but even they don't want to know how important it is. It isn't activist invention either, but it's built into us and never fully unlearned.
If that makes you uneasy, you have a lot of company. It's easier to talk degradables and circularity and sustainability, and go on selling what people will pay to buy. But the comments on the Sri Lanka fire reflect the popular image, which drives legislation in our democracies. I don't like it either; plastics may be necessary, but they are not evil, and we should let the world know it.
Our industry and its public representatives may have enough to do already in fighting plastophobic "fires," but we can't afford to ignore the false science that is behind them (plastics toxicity). Why don't we want to understand the bases for plastophobia? What are we afraid of? I have written this privately and publicly and get no criticism of my explanation, no support, just silence. If I'm wrong, show me where, with numbers, please. If I'm right, pick up the ball and run with it.
El Cerrito, Calif.