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    Should plastics be banned?

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    When assessing our current trends as humans and our impact on our planet, what do you think about proposing the reduction of plastics?

    What if plastic was considered illegal?

    Do you think this would help our future?

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    Solution Preview

    Like a great many people, I am moved to think about sweeping legislation to deal with plastics when I hear about the garbage in the central Pacific Ocean, or see particularly messy roadsides. But in starting to reply to your query, I look at all the plastic involved in my computer, the hermetically sealed packaging for the brown sugar I just put away in the cupboard, and reflect on what a huge, beneficial impact plastics have had in my profession of medicine. I can't make a good case for Draconian measures to eliminate these materials. Plastics have, in many ways, facilitated our modern world for good or ill (remains to be seen).
    Then I'm moved to consider how plastics are harmful. Do they poison living beings directly? Not really, though compounds used in their manufacture are pretty noxious. We're now recognizing that some constituents of plastics aren't good for us, phthalates and polybiphenol come to mind, but these substances are being removed through good manufacturing practices. So what we're left with is inert material that is unsightly and can kill animals if they eat it or get it around their necks, including small children and cleaner bags. I can think of other things, i.e., rusty barbed wire fencing (I am from the west, after all) that are just as unsightly and physically dangerous. But is a plastic bottle at the side of the road and more unsightly than a beer can or glass bottle? Plastic shopping bags are another matter since they are hazardous in several ways. I hope what I'm getting across is my ambivalence ...

    Solution Summary

    A complete ban on plastics might seem attractive when looking a debris on a beach, but these materials have contributed markedly to benefits we enjoy in our current society. Alternatives are likely to be more energy intensive, and potentially damaging to the environment than are plastics. A policy that looks at individual situations is likely to have greater benefit than legislation through broad strokes.