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29.08.2019

Plastic is Fantastic | Connecting with Culture

Plastic is fantastic. It is watertight, lightweight, inexpensive, hygienic, versatile, and easy to manufacture. No wonder that, in a little over a century, it has become fundamental to the quality of human life. While the use of wood, stone, clay, bone, leather, metal, and glass has for centuries made life better for people, the contribution of plastic to human flourishing is immeasurable.

That success is reflected in the fact that our bodies are in almost constant contact with this substance. If that is not because of the clothes we wear, it’s because of the smartphone, steering wheel, toothbrush, suitcase, or pen that is in our hands. Or it’s because of the glasses on our face, the audio device in our ears, the keyboard beneath our fingers, or the bank note and credit card in our pockets.

As those who have been hospitalized will know, scarcely any treatment is administered without the use of plastic. Anyone who has visited a poor community anywhere in the world will understand the development value of a plastic bucket, bag, shoe sole, bottle of water, mosquito net, solar light, and toilet components. Plastic saves and dignifies lives, the world over.

What is damaging life, the world over, is plastic waste. This is what is wreaking havoc to wildlife and threatening food chains, including our own. This is without excuse, as most plastic is easy to recycle. Plastic is not the problem. The problem is with humans – we are wasteful. Christians are amongst those addressing this matter. But we need to make sure the severity of the challenge does not eclipse hope. Trust in God’s providential sustaining of the creation is an attractive and distinctive Christian virtue.

Plastic has been such a blessing to humankind that it deserves to be considered one of God’s greatest material gifts to human beings. That gift has come through the exercise of the ingenuity with which God has endowed us as we have sought to explore the potential of the good earth he has created and placed in our hands. The challenge now is for us to produce, steward, decompose, and recycle plastic more responsibly. It is also to find viable alternatives to plastic that are greener. That is how God’s Spirit, working through human minds, will bring about a sequel to the Plastics Age.

Peter S Heslam

Peter is director of Transforming Business and of Faith in Business, Cambridge.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this dense, informative and interesting article – and especially because it DRILLS DOWN through the superficial “anti-plastic” rhetoric which is so common to the real issue which is HUMAN AGENCY…

    By Howard Peskett - 30th August 2019
  2. Excellent hopeful, helpful post. Thank you, Peter.

    By Jennie Pollock - 30th August 2019
  3. Spot on. We need less demonising of plastic and more ownership of our responsibilities in its waste management while recognising God is bigger than all this and it’s His ‘good earth he has created and placed in our hands’.

    By Simon Shutt - 30th August 2019
  4. Thank you for putting this in perspective – this whole “hot topic” certainly needs it!

    By Charlotte Smith - 30th August 2019
  5. Thank you Peter for your balanced and thoughtful ideas about the gift of plastic in our lives. As you say it has transformed human life. Thank you too for giving us the Christian perspective which always has hope at its foundation. Yes we humans need to waste less. I am sure that there are already many scientists working on new developments for the recycling of many substances including plastic.
    Thank you again

    By Muriel - 30th August 2019
  6. Brilliant article Peter, thank you! There is so much misunderstanding and confusion about plastic – and you have explained this very helpfully. Blessings

    By James - 30th August 2019
  7. I agree there are many uses of plastic which are lifesaving, and that the problem is with humans rather than the material as such. However, I’m not sure the wasteful nature of humans is root of the problem more our over consumption and desire for material possessions. More important than wasting less is buying less.

    By Matthew Stonely - 30th August 2019
  8. Thanks for a sensible Christian perspective! Plastics have become essential and should be welcomed in most of their millions of applications. Ensuring that they do not become a waste problem or pollute waterways and oceans is not an unreasonable or major challenge if it is actually tackled. What cannot be recycled for intrinsic or organisational reasons must be burned to yield useful energy or go to landfill reliably. That is not an impossible task and should not be pushed on to others such as by export – “out of sight, out of mind”.

    By Ian Hore-Lacy - 30th August 2019
  9. Thank you, as another contributor has written, for not demonising plastic. There is a misleading anti-scientific philosophy around today which says, “Natural good, artificial bad”. In some ways this is akin to gnostic theology. The Christian approach is that God gave us the understanding to make new products and so we thank Him for everything.

    By Peter Gowlland - 30th August 2019
  10. My goodness that was trite, especially the way the author tried to crowbar God into it.

    By David Young - 30th August 2019
  11. And excellent and concise summary outlining the huge contribution that plastic has and continues to make to humankind. Linking this with the responsibility that Christians have in its stewardship was refreshing. The sequel to the plastic age is still a little way off as some of the compostable alternatives currently being lauded are shipped from the east in huge volume and have an immense carbon footprint. Thanks for a balanced approach to the challenge

    By John Proctor - 30th August 2019

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