Plastics are chains of carbon and hydrogen usually derived from coal, crude oil, and gas and are combined together in a plant creating a ‘polymer.’ The polymer is processed and is turned into plastic pellets or a fine powder – this product is sold to plastic manufacturing companies and it is then transformed into thermoplastics or thermosets. From there the manufacturers use the processes known as injection molding, blow molding or extrusion to create their desired product. Long story short.
To do all this, coal is mined, oil is drilled, gas is hydro-fracked (all of these materials processed and transported), and large processing plants combine the by-products of these materials creating ‘raw’ plastic. Then more fossil fuels are used to turn the raw material into a useable product, and then more fossil fuels are used for transportation. And then some more to ship it to market.
All this reminds me of the wonderful illustration in Bill Mollison: A Designers Manual. Inconceivable amounts of energy is used for the products we depend upon and what’s even more striking is how we consumers dispose of it.
My next post will be longer essay as to how on a macro-level we can all contribute to drastic plastc consumption reduction. For now, though, refuse the bag if it’s offered, reuse an old bottle for drinking and recycle it once you’re done.