Plastics and the Invisible Hand

Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton and the diocesan Stewardship Resources team.

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Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

It is a tenet of modern American society, that open and free markets will cure most ills. Some might even argue that free and open markets will cure all ills. As for myself, I’m not so sure that that is actually the case. 

Consider, once again, plastics: currently, it appears that much recycled plastic pieces end up in landfills. That suggests that there is an insufficient market to buy and re-use all recycled plastics. If free and open markets were truly working well here, that would suggest that much less plastic needs to enter the recycling pipeline. 

So, what are we to do? We could, of course, try to buy as many pieces made of recycled plastics as we feed into the recycling stream to begin with. Let’s see, I know of some clothes being made out of recycled plastics, plastic decking alternatives to wood, and what else? I can’t imagine myself buying enough of these items to offset the amount of plastics we were recycling at our home. And that leaves, in the end, only one alternative: we must reduce the amount of plastics coming into our home, so that we also reduce the amount of plastics we push into the recycling stream. That may, eventually, help create a viable market for what plastics still end up in the recycling stream, as there might just be less of it, increasing its value. For the free and open market to work, we all have to play our part in it. If we agree that simply tossing plastics into landfills or God’s wide world around us does not constitute sound environmental stewardship, then we have to find ways to reduce the amount of materials being recycled, by reducing the amount of materials we use ourselves. 

Here are some very simple ideas we’re trying ourselves to reduce our use of plastics:

  • instead of plastic wrap to cover dishes being stored in the refrigerator or reheated in the microwave, we use silicone covers;
  • instead of buying drinks in plastic bottles, we mostly buy drinks in aluminum cans, aluminum being highly recyclable and reusable;
  • instead of plastic containers to store food, we use glass containers with silicone lids.

Oh, and after just a couple of months of having taken these steps, we’re beginning to save a little money!

What else can you think of that might help us shift away from plastic? 

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