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7 Ways Plastic Replaced Perfectly Good Renewable Resources

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4. Rubber: Rubber trees are indigenous to South America, but they started to spread through the world via cultivars in the 1700s. Due to blockades during the Second World War, a synthetic version, economically unimportant up to that point, jumped from an annual production of 231 tons to 840, 000 tons in just four years! We never looked back. But just remember, the next time you’re “burning rubber” in your sports car, you’re actually just burning oil — doubly so.

5. Paper: In certain print applications, synthetic paper, either a combination of wood pulp with a petroleum-derived resin or, more frequently, petroleum-derived material with no wood pulp at all, has surpassed traditional wood-derived paper. Paper is an ancient manufactured material, having been invented in China more than 2,000 years ago. True paper can be recycled, burned or allowed to decompose, its constituent parts ultimately incorporated into future trees and new paper. But regions with concerns about their availability of wood resources, including, ironically, China’s daughter nation, Japan, have come to rely more and more heavily on the petroleum paper instead.

6. Metal: Metal is not technically a renewable in the traditional sense, and mining comes with its own host of problems, but compared to plastic, metal lasts longer, is more easily recyclable and has fewer end-of-life issues. Given a choice between aluminum drink containers and plastic, I would pick aluminum every time. Given a choice between steel and plastic building or manufacturing components, I would have to go with steel. We’ve been smelting for thousands of years, and not until we started making everything out of plastic did we start having building materials end up in the food chain and ultimately our own bodies.

7. Wood: As a building or manufacturing material or as a fuel, wood has a lot on on oil-derived plastics and coal or natural gas. If you plant at least one tree for each one you cut, you’ll never run out.

In conclusion: It’s not news that oil is a convenient but poor long-term energy choice. But we sometimes don’t realize just how ubiquitous it’s become. The artificial cheapness of this very finite resource, even now, resulted in our using it as a replacement for any number of superior renewables. The system wasn’t broke, but we “fixed” it anyway.

Related stories:

Woodburning Stoves Could Soon Be Illegal

5 Easy Ways to Be an Energy Star and Save Money This Winter

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Photo credits: Thinkstock

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125 comments

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3:39AM PDT on Oct 25, 2013

I miss glass bottle and jars. Everything tastes better from glass. Food takes on some taste from plastic.
We always use natural fertilizers (manure). Manure is free! It's also better for the soil.
We recycle most of our paper waste. Personal papers, we shred and put in the garden to rot into the soil.
I don't believe there is any climate change, but it's just being a good steward of the Earth God gave us.

11:03PM PDT on Oct 18, 2013

Agree with all but the wood. We're losing our trees at too fast a pace as it is and even planting a tree for every one you cut down won't replace those cut soon enough. Those idiots cutting down the Amazon are aren't helping.

2:34PM PDT on Oct 17, 2013

Sharing

10:08AM PDT on Oct 13, 2013

People NEED to RECYCLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

9:33AM PDT on Oct 13, 2013

Oui, il faut arrêter d' utiliser le pétrole et de faire du plastique. ET OUI, c' est possible. Il y a d' autres solutions, seulement c' est juste une question de volonté et ...d' argent. Parlez en à Total ou Shell ( bande de pollueurs et destructeurs ). La liste est trop longue pour pouvoir vous l' écrire, mais si vous vous intéressez à l' environnement et participer à care2, je suis sûre que vous connaissez beaucoup de ces solutions.

6:27PM PDT on Oct 12, 2013

Thanks

3:00PM PDT on Oct 11, 2013

Very good article and so true.

8:25AM PDT on Oct 11, 2013

Gee - -

Is this a good time to remind people that there is a new continent in the Pacific between the size of Texas and Alaska MADE of plastic, but uninhabitable and unrecognized?

11:17PM PDT on Oct 9, 2013

I strive to avoid plastic in my life, and do pretty well in all aspects except food packaging where there often aren't any options that don't include at least a plastic wrap somewhere. I'd be happy to see more glass.

And though I'm not as keen as the author for metal for food or beverage packaging, I think we may have forgotten the wax-coated paper carton, as is still used for milk and juice. Now if only they'd skip the plastic pour spout.

9:24PM PDT on Oct 9, 2013

Hemp, poop, solar and wind energy. Four things that are essentially free and could save us a world of harm. Get with the program, people. Demand the reinstatement of Nature!

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