Plastic, Plastic Everywhere

In the classic 1967 movie, the Graduate, Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate, is taken aside by a family friend at his graduation party, who says to him, “Ben, I just have one word of advice for you. Are you listening? ‘Plastics’. There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”

“Yes sir,” Benjamin replies meekly.

In 1967, plastics were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are in 2024. But the advice given to Benjamin was prescient — today, plastics, which are petroleum-based, are used for just about everything in our daily lives.

The problem is, plastics also are in everything, including our bodies. According to scientists, microplastics are flowing through every one of our organs and tissues, and the same is true for just about every animal on earth.

In addition, very little of the plastic that we generate is recyclable. We may think of ourselves as being virtuous when we dutifully recycle all of our plastic items every week, but a recent survey revealed that only about six percent of plastic items are recycled and that much of what is labeled as “recyclable” really is not recyclable at all. Those hard-plastic containers that hold our laundry detergent, for example, can be recycled only at a very few facilities across the country, which means that almost all of them end up in landfills, where they eventually disintegrate and make their way into the food chain and our water — and into our bodies.

Almost 60 years after the Graduate, we are drowning — literally — in a sea of plastics, and with the demand for plastics ever-increasing, the problem is only going to get worse. It is estimated that by 2050, the demand for plastics will triple and the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans actually will outweigh the fish.

Yes, as foretold in 1967, the future was indeed, “Plastics.”

But that future — today’s present — turned out to be a grim one.

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