An opinion piece by Jesse Leeworthy

It’s never been easy for us to talk about plastic. In fact, we have danced around the topic since the day we started memobottle.

At the beginning of 2021, we decided that for us to become the transparent business we aim to be, we would need to engage in the difficult conversations. It’s the only way that we as a brand and as a society can have a truly positive impact.

Increasingly, plastic is labeled as an evil material and for good reason. Disposed single-use plastic products and packaging are scattered across the entire globe; polluting waterways, leaching from landfills, and floating in our oceans. The global effect that plastic pollution is having on our environment is unmeasurable and only continues to grow. 

For these reasons, it’s fair enough that we’ve labeled plastic as an unacceptable material. But is it possible that we’ve got it wrong? Is it possible that the problem doesn’t sit with the material’s make-up but instead with how it’s used, and therefore how it is valued? 

How we use plastic matters

The application of plastic is often unconsidered and wasteful. The cheaper it is, the more likely we are to consume it. The more trivial its application, the more likely we are to dispose of it incorrectly. Because as individuals, we don’t value the material or the context in which the material is used and we don’t realise how much we actually consume. We can’t comprehend the amount of waste we create as individuals, let alone the collective impact we have as a society. 

Let’s look at an example of where plastic is providing an overall better environmental outcome than the alternative - your car. If you don’t own a car and ride a bike instead then that’s even better (we should all ride more, but that’s another story). The reality is that a large portion of the population does drive cars. The modern-day car is full of plastic. It’s built into the mechanics, the doors, the rearview mirror, the interior, and in a hundred other places that you wouldn’t think of. It makes up the inherent material uses that we may take for granted, but unconsciously value over time. Plastic is used due to its wide range of mechanical and thermal properties—strength, temperature resistance, mouldability, and being inherently very lightweight. 

Lightweight materials are vital in creating energy efficiency

Now, what would a car be like if it didn’t incorporate plastic? You could transport yourself back to the ’50s to get an idea, but basically, we would be driving around in cars made out of metal, wood, and leather.

At first, this doesn’t sound so bad, but the additional weight would increase the energy required to move the vehicle by multiple times over. Not to mention that metals have one of the highest embodied energies of all (Embodied energy is the sum of all energy required to produce, transport, or use any goods or services, considered as if that energy was incorporated or ‘embodied’ in the product itself.). From a Life Cycle Analysis perspective, reducing the mass of a vehicle is one of the best ways to make a car more sustainable.

Oil (a non-renewable resource) from which some plastics are made, is a key component of petrol. The sheer amount of petrol required to move this metal/wooden vehicle around would quickly outweigh the amount of oil used within the plastic, which makes modern-day cars lightweight and fuel-efficient. By burning oil, it immediately loses its value. By making a long-life product out of it, it surely instills a higher value. Oil, like all non-renewables, should be valued, and used sparingly. 

The simple truth is that, because of plastic and other lightweight composites, today’s cars are exceedingly more efficient* despite the addition of all the modern safety features and luxuries that we’ve come to expect.

(*I must note that humans have responded to these efficiencies by buying more powerful cars)

Do you respect plastic?

Somewhere along the line,