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The Upside Of Plastics

Jessica Knoblauch writes up a major new report on the environmental impacts of humanity's plastic use. We learn that scientists still don't have the sharpest picture of the health effects of all those chemicals associated with plastics, but there's evidence that they're less than salutary. We also learn that plastic debris can wreak carnage on marine ecosystems. And we learn that everyone should probably recycle more plastic or rely more heavily on the biodegradable variety. OK, all fair. But the real counterintuitive stuff comes at the end:

The authors said that if plastics are made and used responsibly, they can help solve some environmental problems.

For example, one study found that packaging beverages in PET (a type of plastic) versus glass or metal reduces energy use by 52 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent. And, solar water heaters containing plastics can provide up to two-thirds of a household’s annual hot water demand, reducing energy consumption.

Plastics, if used wisely, “have the potential to reduce mankind’s footprint on the Earth,” Thompson said.

So for once, it's not all bad. Sadly, though, there's no final word on whether it's okay to drink out of a PET bottle repeatedly. All the other journalistic forays into this subject seem to be wildly inconclusive.

--Bradford Plumer