I admit that I am approaching retirement age and am pretty stuck in some of my ways. But I do remember being young and idealistic. I remember when making the world a better place was a noble goal. And now, I see many of the principles of my youth being applied to the sustainability issue. I also see the same mistakes being made.
I am not opposed to sustainability as a concept. However, for it to actually work, sustainability needs a shift in its thinking. That shift is no small endeavor. It is a major shift that requires accepting a dose of reality. Without such acceptance, current efforts to create a more sustainable world will continue to fail.
Every Action Has Consequences
Are you familiar with the physics principle of every action having an equal and opposite reaction? Outside of physics, another way to express the principle is to say that every action has consequences. It is impossible to do something without causing something else to happen.
Fossil fuels are a typical target for sustainability advocates. They recognize that burning fossil fuels has consequences. So what’s the solution? Eliminate internal combustion engines and replace them with electric motors. But wait a minute. Manufacturing EV batteries also has consequences.
Mining for lithium – the main component in lithium-ion EV batteries – causes an incredible amount of environmental damage. Much of that damage will take decades to repair after mining ceases. So we trade fossil fuels for destructive mining practices. Is it a fair trade?
Plastic a Popular Target Too
Plastic is another easy target for sustainability advocates. In particular, single-use plastics are the bogeyman right now. Somehow, it was decided that we are manufacturing too many single-use plastics and then throwing them in landfills. Let’s say that this is true. What do we do?
We turn to paper and glass. Manufacturing paper requires cutting down trees. We can recycle paper, and we should, but doing so requires energy. Same deal with glass. It requires a tremendous amount of energy to manufacture, transport, and even recycle. There is also the issue of hygiene.
One of the reasons that plastic is so popular in food service and manufacturing is that it is hygienic. Not only that, but food can also be preserved in plastic a lot longer. That makes plastic packaging safer. We give up plastic and we need to change the way we handle our food supply.
The Better Way Is a Better Way
Sustainability is not a bad goal in and of itself. But there is a better way to achieve it. That better way is to find a better way of doing what we already do. Let us go back to plastic. There isn’t a single manufacturing material that can compare to it, which is why we manufacture so much of it. So until we find a better material, let’s concentrate sustainability efforts on finding better ways to manufacture, recycle, and dispose of it.
Seraphim Plastics is a company that has found a better way to collect and recycle commercial plastics. They are not the only ones. While Seraphim operates in seven Midwestern states, there are companies all over the country doing the same thing. Their daily efforts prove that plastic can be recycled efficiently and at a profit. They have found a better way.
There is a better way to continue using fossil fuels while improving their impact on the world. Let’s find that better way instead of trying to eliminate them. If sustainability were built on the concept of improving what we do rather than targeting and eliminating bogeyman, it would actually be doable.