Let us begin this post with a statement of fact: plastic isn’t going anywhere. Since it was first introduced, plastic has been unmatched in terms of manufacturing materials. Nothing we produced before or since has been able to match plastic ounce for ounce. With that said, plastic’s future is uncertain.
It is not uncertain in terms of whether or not it will be around 50 or 100 years from now. Rather, the uncertainty is in how it will be manufactured, utilized, recycled, and ultimately discarded. At the core of that future is profitability. It will play a chief role in determining what we do with plastic for generations to come.
Profitability Is Always a Factor
What so many people do not realize is that profitability is always a factor. We can define profitability in different ways, but it is almost always the key motivator in determining why we human beings do what we do. We are no different than the rest of nature in that survival is our highest priority. Whatever profits our survival is deemed good. Whatever does not is deemed either neutral or bad.
This principle certainly applies to plastics. Overall, the world appreciates plastics because we profit from them. Plastics are one of the keys to cheap consumer goods. They have made it possible to build huge airliners and cruise ships, preserve food for much longer periods of time, and even create the digital devices we all depend on. Without plastics, the world would be a quite different place. How many of us would want to live in that world?
The Recycling Question
Profitability also plays a key role in how plastic is recycled. To date, our recycling efforts have not proved very successful. Why? A lack of profitable processes. Municipal recycling has been a colossal failure because no one has figured out how to do it at a profit. That doesn’t mean we can’t eventually figure it out. We just haven’t done so yet.
Meanwhile, in the commercial arena, multiple companies have been launched on the premise of offering a new and profitable way to recycle everything from single-use food containers to the industrial plastics that go into aerospace manufacturing. PureCycle Technologies is a classic example. The Florida-based company is struggling to finish construction of a new Ohio plant. That plant may never be completed. Rumors are that the company is on the verge of collapse.
Once again, this does not mean commercial plastic recycling is not possible. In fact, we know the exact opposite to be true. Seraphim Plastics is just one of a handful of companies scattered around the U.S. that manages to recycle post industrial plastic scrap at a profit. Seraphim does it in seven states.
Profit Is a Great Motivator
Regardless of how one defines profit, it is a great motivator. The more an individual or organization stands to profit from certain activities, the more likely they are to engage in those activities. Seraphim Plastics routinely engages in plastic recycling because it is profitable to them. And guess what? They enjoy great success.
It is nice to be able to look at plastic’s future through rose-colored glasses powered by an altruistic belief that we can save the world by addressing plastic waste. But reality is neither rose colored nor altruistic. The fact is that we do what we do because it profits us. The profit motive will ultimately determine the future of how plastics are produced, used, recycled, and discarded. To believe otherwise is to deny thousands of years of history and the human nature behind it.