Currently, the zero-waste movement, and slowly the rest of the world, are trying to eliminate as much plastic as they can. This includes disposable options such as sandwich bags and plastic wrap, packaging, etc. People are starting to use alternatives, both store-bought and homemade, but what if plastic had never been invented at all?
The perks of a plastic-less existence
Let's start with the perks of a plastic-free world. First of all, plastic is produced using oil. If plastic had never been invented, oil would have been less desirable than it is now. This would've reduced its contribution to climate change and lowered its prices. Oil would still have been used, but it could have been for car-fuel rather than plastic.
Also, about 100 million deaths in marine life would have been prevented. Sure, fish and other aquatic animals can also die from other causes, but around 100 million deaths are because of plastic. Those deaths would have all been prevented and may have even saved a few species from extinction, who knows?
On the land, plastic also contributes to animal deaths and pollution. Without plastic, there would be less pollution and fewer deaths. Forests would be green again, and glaciers and rivers would be safer to consume. The factories that are now used to produce plastic, wouldn't exist and, therefore, wouldn't be able to excrete their chemicals into seas and rivers or contribute to air pollution.
Less CO2 would be excreted into the air since the creation, burning and recycling of plastic generates a lot of CO2. Without plastic, we wouldn't have as much of an environmental problem as we have now.
The disadvantages of a plastic-less existence
Even though plastic has a lot of negatives, it's also made our lives a lot easier over past years. Perhaps more than we realize.
Let's start in the medical field. Plastic is a very sterile substance and is therefore used to contain syringes, gloves and other medical equipment. Without plastic, it would be a lot harder, or at least more expensive to create sterile items. The effects of non-sterile equipment can be fatal in some cases.
The invention of plastic also lead to the creation of subcategories like vinyl, polyester, nylon and more. Without plastic we wouldn't have the clothes we wear today. Our cars would have been different since a lot of the materials used inside are made out of plastic. Glasses, watches, bottles, outdoor furniture and camping equipment all wouldn't exist as we know them without plastic. Perhaps they still would've been invented, but with other, more expensive and less durable materials.
Plastic does not only kill animals, but it also saves them as well. With the invention of plastic came celluloid, which is a replacement for ivory. This was a move that made elephant and rhino poaching less desirable and thus lessened the deaths of many these animals.
In almost every home, plastic is used to line electrical cables or around water systems. Because of its durability, it protects users from being electrocuted or having contaminated water.
Our current world without plastic
Now, let's imagine our current world as it is without any plastic. It just suddenly disappeared. What would happen?
First of all, most clothes, shoes and accessories wouldn't exist. Those new fancy panties you bought? Gone. The make-up collection, mostly gone.
Our credit cards would disappear and most condiment packages too. Our cars, buses, planes, trains, etc. would fall apart due to missing materials, and in many countries, even our cash would disappear.
Waterpipes would be gone, causing water to flow everywhere. Electricity lines would open up, being a danger to everyone near.
In short, it would be chaos.
However, looking at a silver lining: most fish and other sea animals would be able to live freely again. Forests would be clean, and many CO2 producing factories would close down, preventing the excretion of CO2 in the air.
Right now, we need plastic in our lives to keep living.
So, plastic then?
No, just because our lives currently depend on the usage of plastic does not mean we can't live without it. Scientists are finding alternatives that are becoming readily available on the market and people are beginning to understand the importance of living plastic-free lives.
We would indeed be living in a different world without the invention of plastic. Scientists are continuing their search to find new materials that have the positives of plastic, such as cost, durability, and ease of production, minus the dangers and the pollution. There has been a shift toward plant-based plastics, which are biodegradable and do not harm the environment. Organic materials, such as cotton, are also seeing a rise in popularity to replace materials like polyester, which contain plastic.
The view of the world on plastic is also changing. Where most people were against the monetization of plastic bags rather than giving them out for free, people now are aware of the consequences their actions have, including the usage of plastic.
Large corporations have a long way to go, but even they are slowly adapting to a lifestyle of using less plastic in their products. Look at IKEA; they are trying to become plastic-free entirely and promote sustainable cotton.
Ways plastic can be replaced
For some of us, it can be hard to start switching out plastic in favour of other materials. Here is a short guide on what you can do to decrease your plastic consumption.
Shop at the market or bulk stores. Most marketplaces allow the usage of your own bags and almost 95% of the goods are package-free, which means less plastic.
Buy reusable items. Travel mugs, cutlery, lunch boxes, and straws are typically plastic, and since we're all constantly moving around, almost everybody uses them. Buying a stainless steel lunchbox, wooden cutlery, glass or aluminum mug, and a reusable straw increases their durability and decreases your plastic consumption. It also looks really cool.
Wrap your food differently. When we store food, most people use plastic wrap to store their leftovers. However, beeswax (or soy wax if you're vegan) wraps are even better. They are sterile, easy to clean and re-useable and they help keep your food fresh longer!
Thrift. Many clothes contain at least a bit of polyester or nylon, which is all made of plastic. To decrease your plastic consumption, you don't have to stop wearing these clothes. Buying them second-hand or trading them with a friend gives them a new life and prevents them from ending up in a landfill. Damaged clothes can either be sewn together again or upcycled into something marvellous!
In conclusion, plastic was useful for a long time, but we have since realized how bad it is for our planet. Now we've progressed so much that we are developing ways to eliminate plastic from our daily lives again. You can contribute too. Let's all work together to stop using plastic and rebuild this planet to its former glory.