While I folded that bag back into it's original state before it was used to hold my 24oz Papst and a bag of Chex mix, I thought about how great it was for me once again to be folding a paper bag. Plastic bags give me no such pleasure. Plastic bags are nothing but thin, wimpy wannabe paper bags.
Given how thought filters thru the cobwebbed maze of my mind, I then wondered why is it we have become so enamored with plastic. Plastic is everywhere now. Or more accurately, organic polymers of high molecular mass form a high percentage of the physical and material things in our world. When I was a teen, plastic had a bad rep. Plastic used to mean fake when used in the Hippie lexicon back in the day-glo era. When I was a kid, American toys were made of good US steel. The cheap toys were made of plastic and came from Japan.
Now plastic rules the roost. Plastic no longer carries with it the immediate brand of "cheap and wimpy". Configured the right way, plastic can function cheaper, lighter, and be stronger than its equivalent metallic cousin. Much of the new passenger plane from Boeing, the Dreamliner, is made of
Of course in order for us to accept plastic, a new more acceptable quiver of names had to be thought up. Polymers, polystyrene, polyurethane, silicone, acrylics, nylon - Hell, any word other than plastic. The word "Composite" stands out as the best defense against the negative history of plastic. It has nothing in it that would blatantly tie it to plastic. The word, composite, promises strength through allegiances of more than one material. It is a feel good word for a World apparently in need of one.
I had an argument once with a sales rep in the bike industry. This was back in the 1990s. Carbon Fiber was just beginning to make inroads in the bike world. The sales rep was trying to sell me on the notion of carbon fiber handlebars. In our discussion, I called them plastic bars. Well, that was all it took for this guy to go off the deep end. Briefly to condense his five minute rant - No, his bars were not plastic, they were carbon fiber. I replied that while the fabric that made up the form of the bars was indeed carbon fiber, the glue that held it all together was plastic. And besides, it felt like plastic. Should I now lick it to see if it tastes like plastic also?
Long story short, I brought in the man's bars and sold them in my bike shop. I also put some on my bike and my daughter's bike. Every bar I sold or used failed. And they failed dramatically. I still remember that crash. It would be 15 years before I would test pilot another set of carbon fiber bars. And to be fair, the ones I am using now are the cat's meow. Stronger, flexible and light. Everything the guy back in the 1990s promised, but failed to deliver. I am even considering putting my fat butt on a fancy dancy new high end carbon fiber mountain bike just to finally put to bed the lingering fear I have of plastic used in the wrong places. The technology has been perfected and as long as the price is high enough, the product will deliver as promised. But cheap plastic is still cheap plastic and will let you down.
So what does all this have to do with the paper bag I was folding and the image at the top? Again I admit I let a post get a tad off the reservation, but I did have a reason to bash plastic. It just feels unnatural. Paper, even though probably as processed as plastic is, does not. Paper reminds me of wood, which reminds me of trees, which reminds me that paper comes from a renewable resource and plastic is still for the most part a product of oil, which is not renewable - not yet anyway.
Forget renewable, let's consider recyclable. Both are recyclable to varying degrees depending on what chemicals are used in the manufacture of the particular paper or plastic. Both require large amounts of energy to make or recycle. Both are dependent on a variety of ugly chemicals we don't want in our ground water. So from a green point of view, neither one should be holding their heads up. Yet without either, our world would fail to function at the pace it is functioning. We have created these products and now are totally dependent on them to contain our food, contain our electronics, fly our planes.
So my choice of paper or plastic comes down to the image above. Would the Unknown Comic be the man he became with a star on some Hollywood sidewalk had he come out on stage wearing a biodegradable plastic bag made from corn starch? I don't think so.