I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

War By Design: Plastics

by Kollin Holtz
July 21, 2015

“You know what the fellow said – in Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.” – Lime (From the movie The Third Man)

War gave us plastic, and plastic gave us IKEA. So for couples browsing home furnishings across the nation, the war wages on. If love is a battlefield, and communication wins wars, then everyone loses at IKEA – a Mecca of plastic furniture design. I once saw a Significant pout at his Significant Other, “Oh, I’m sorry, I should’ve stayed home and had you picture message me!” By the end, the only “items” left in the store are the ones for sale. Divide and conquer. It’s a standard practice. The more single people, the more apartments their products will be in. It’s like Ingvar Kamprad , the store’s founder, was given advice by Mr. McGuire from that scene in The Graduate you might not remember when he says, “I’ve got one word for you… Just one word… Are you listening? …Plastics.”

Now for some facts.

Dildos moved to rubber (in the family of plastic) in the 40’s. There was a spring running through it to add rigidity, but as the rubber aged, there was a risk of the spring causing injuries. Then dildos evolved to PVC plastic (makes up some of your home plumbing). That’s great because no one has to worry about that spring anymore, but surprise! It contains chemicals linked with cancer. Then—now I suppose—they started using silicone, which is one of the few plastics that can be sterilized without compromising the safety of the product.

Here is what all those recycling numbers you see all the time stand for:

Plastic #1, or polyethylene terephtalate (PETE/PET), is most commonly used in beverage bottles like 20oz pop bottles, waters, teas and lemonades etc. It is not recommended for re-use as the exterior can harbor harmful bacteria, and absorb additional flavor. Commonly accepted for recycling.

Plastic #2 is high density polyethylene (HDPE) is used to hold things like milk jugs, juice bottles, detergents and motor oil. Also accepted for recycling.

Plastic #3 is vinyl (or PVC!) which is found in medical equipment, plumbing, and shampoo bottles. Burning this plastic releases very toxic chemicals into the air. Keep it away from a food prep area. Kind of recycled. Sometimes.

Plastic #4, also known as Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is probably known to you as your grocery or shopping bag. Occasionally it is recycled.

Plastic #5 makes up many wide mouthed and condiment bottles. It’s also used to make one of my favorite plastic things: Straws. It’s called Polypropylene (PP), and recycling of this kind of plastic is on the rise!

Plastic #6 is basically Styrofoam, but it’s really called Polystyrene (PS), and it’s used in disposable dinnerware. Many know it as that nasty product that stays around forever and takes 500 years to decompose. Not recyclable. It’s the same plastic that makes up your CD and/or DVD collection too.

Plastic #7 is the wild card. There’s no classification. It’s in the category of “whatever.” It comprises many of the plastics on our electronics, gasoline cans and signs. It can also be a carrier of the chemical BPA (Bisphenol A), a chemical linked to harmful side effects, and found a while ago in baby bottles manufactured in China.

You know that jacket, those sweatpants, that hoodie or those gym clothes you have, or used to own that are made out of “Polar Fleece” and are probably only used as pajamas? Guess what polar fleece is. Plastic! It was formed to mimic and surpass some attributes of wool at a fraction of the weight. It retains less than one percent of its weight in water, and will catch fire unless treated with flame retardant. It’s made out of polyethylene terephtalate (PETE), or plastic #1! Technically, you could say that it’s made out of 20oz plastic bottles.  It takes approximately 25 plastic bottles to make up one fleece jacket. In the United States, about two and a half million bottles are disposed of every hour. Too bad only 27% of them are recycled. If the 1.3 million tons of plastic bottles produced in the U.S. were taken to the recycle center, they’d be chopped into tiny pieces, cleaned of any residue or labels, and it would be 1/3rd the energy cost of making a bottle from scratch saving approximately enough energy to power 2.6 million households. More importantly, it could also make 832 million fleece jackets. I’m afraid I don’t know the conversion rate for snuggies. 

Leo Baekeland, the one credited with popularizing plastic in “Plastics – Science and Chemistry Educational Documentary,” when asked why he went into a career of synthetic resins, he told his friends it was to make money. And right he was! The war machine pushed the market and development forward, and opened the doors for additional commercial applications. One particular furniture store comes to mind for this. Your computer screen is probably framed by plastic. Do something corny like admire that in your peripheral as you peruse the world through that plastic window at your leisure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSxihhBzCjk - The Graduate – “Plastics”

http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/online-resources/chemistry-in-history/themes/petrochemistry-and-synthetic-polymers/synthetic-polymers/baekeland.aspx - Chemical Heritage Foundation’s “Leo Hendrick Baekeland”

http://ecovillagegreen.com/903/ & http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/recycling-symbols-plastics-460321#slide-6 - The Recycl
Kollin Holtz is a comedian, writer, and filmmaker living in a closet under the stairs in San Francisco, CA. Check out his website,www.kollinholtz.com for updates on his shows, and his podcast “Closet Talk With Kollin Holtz.” You may also follow him on twitter @KollinHoltz if ya fancy.