I get frustrated when people talk about challenges facing manufacturers of single-use plastics products. I see experts missing obvious solutions, suggesting wrongheaded ones, or worse, concluding that the problems are impossible to solve and saying all plastics should be banned.
So with a nod to Jonathan Swift, let me offer some fresh ideas. I'm calling this my American solution to plastics pollution because it harnesses some of the most powerful forces of our culture.
First up, let's consider gluttony. I credit my dog, Piper, for this idea. We were taking a walk and I wasn't paying attention when she discovered the remnants of a Burger King breakfast sandwich on the side of the road. Someone in a passing car must have tossed it, and Piper quickly and eagerly ate it all: the croissant, bacon and even the cheese-encrusted wrapper.
Hmm, I thought. What if we could make plastics more circular by making them edible? And why stop at packaging? We could recycle all plastics by putting them directly into our food.
How much recycled plastic could we put in a breakfast sausage and still make it palatable? Recent stories about microplastics in food and water — and the spirited defenders from some corners of the plastics industry — makes me think we should aim for 25 percent post-consumer content. Maybe hot dogs could get to 50 percent.
Next, let's consider greed and selfishness. We want someone else to solve plastics problems. We don't want solutions that cost anything. So to improve collection and eliminate pollution, let's enlist children. Hey kids, do you want a free school lunch? Or even a free public education? First you have to collect and return containers for recycling. Ask your neighbors for their bottles or go dumpster diving for a bigger haul.
Why stop there? Instead of busing refugees to sanctuary cities, how about putting them to work cleaning up litter and beaches? That could be a requirement for anyone needing food stamps or subsidized housing, too.
Readers may have more ideas. How about vanity? Can we put real recycled plastic into plastic surgeries?
But first, a word of caution: These tongue-in-cheek solutions to plastics issues aren't a slam dunk because I've also identified another cultural trait that we'll have to overcome. That's the nostalgic longing for the past and the widespread belief that things today — and in the future — are worse than they were on the old days. People think they want returnable glass Coke bottles, paper grocery bags, wood houses, brass plumbing and cars made of chrome and steel.
Convincing folks that they don't really want to give up the convenience, safety and low cost of plastics is going to be tough. But perhaps my modest proposals can be a start.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.