We now consume around 100 million tons of plastic annually, compared to five million tons in the 1950s when American housewives were just discovering the wonders of Tupperware. To put that into perspective, one ton of plastic represents around 20,000 two-liter bottles of water or 120,000 carrier bags, according to the British Web site Waste Online.
But don't think plastic is evil...
According to PlasticsResource.com, an educational Web site run by the American Chemistry Council, people have benefited from plastics. Using recycled plastic as a replacement for say, wood, can have a positive impact on the environment, it argues, as fewer trees get felled to make products such as garden furniture, which it says could be better served by the more durable and lower maintenance plastic. The organization also points out that by replacing plastic with different kinds of material, we could in fact be creating more environmental problems for ourselves. For instance, it says, it takes 30 percent less energy to make foam polystyrene containers than paperboard containers. Without plastics, the group says, an extra 400 percent more material by weight and 200 percent more by volume would be needed to meet existing packaging needs. It also points out that transportation requirements would increase substantially if plastic bags were replaced by paper grocery bags: For every seven trucks needed to deliver paper grocery bags to the store - only one truck is needed to carry the same number of plastic bags" the site says.
I sort of find these arguments to be a bit of strawman. It is not plastic per se, although the further reliance on petroleum is disconcerting, is that both plastics and other disposable products are typically one use products filling landfills with non-biodegradable products. The other growing concern is the potential for plastics to have significant health impacts, including flooding the human body with estrogen mimics.