Pro-plastic propaganda for kids from 1997 "Plastics Makes It Possible"

Originally published at: Pro-plastic propaganda for kids from 1997 "Plastics Makes It Possible" | Boing Boing

Holy shit. I’m just trying to wrap my noggin around the idea of pro-plastic propaganda, much less for kids. That someone felt the need to brainwash children into accepting this already ubiquitous, un-recycled material… Presumably this was a response to increasing awareness of plastic pollution, but kids don’t make purchasing decisions (not that one usually even has the option to reject plastic) or have any real impact on the plastic market - which means the purpose of this was purely so that when they became adults they would be less likely to question or try to demand alternatives to plastic. It strikes me as something between global warming denial propaganda and copaganda (which I notice they managed to fit a bit of in there). Really, it’s kind of… evil.


Plastic is so much fun you get to carry it around in your body, yippee.



I know it’s fashionable to hate on plastic, but the underlying premise isn’t wrong (setting aside the propaganda angle). This reminds me of the anti-plastic grocery bag movement. When it was (rightfully) pointed out that that the production of paper bags required a huge amount of water along with significantly more energy (as does the recycling of paper vs. plastic) everyone just stuck their fingers in their ears and yelled “I can’t hear you”. Which is odd since there are other perfectly reasonable arguments around pollution that could have been made…

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Except, the, you know… fuck up the environment part… but who cares about that… /s


Not to mention if they were to ever grow up and serve on the jury of a case involving the plastics industry, they would tend to be more sympathetic to them. This is a known tactic.


What exactly do you think the underlying premise is? I have a hard time figuring that out beneath all that propaganda.


Plastic largely can’t be recycled in anything like a cost effective way. Most of it can’t be recycled into anything usable. Regardless of cost.

The idea that it can comes from pretty much the same ad campaign as this article is about. Kind of an industry push to avoid regulation and oversight by providing PSAs and helping to fund “awareness” campaigns. This gave us the original litter bug push. But also fed the “reduce reuse recycle” thing through the 90s.

Personal responsibility over societal change and government regulation.

Turns out we were just shipping all that plastic halfway around the world, where it was gonna get land filled.

Meanwhile water use is only a serious concern where water is short. Paper tends to get made from managed forests where water is cheap and available. Is fundamentally renewable. And unlike plastic it is both recyclable and biodegradable.


Anti-environmentalists like to put down the energy costs of recycling paper, but like, of course it’s easier to grind up some convenient old growth forest than it is to collect and reclaim the wood fibers we had already used. That obviously doesn’t make it better for the environment, though. It just means that energy is the wrong way to measure that impact, which is about material instead.

Given how much damage plastic does to our environment – the North Pacific gyre apparently has enough that 5 tons annually are carried by albatrosses alone – I find it hard to believe pointing to energy costs there isn’t the same sleight of hand. Plastic is a useful invention and there are lots of things we couldn’t do without it, but we’ve overdone it a million times over.


One more thing to add to what @chenille and @Ryuthrowsstuff already explained:

At least over here a significant amount of the plastic vs. paper debate was a artificially inflated both by the industry who wanted to protect the status quo, as well as by the very people who preferred single-use plastic bags and couldn’t be arsed to use reusable bags of any kind and found paper bags less convenient.

In my personal experience, people who argued for a ban of single-use plastic bags did not use single-use bags at all.


I’m still working on what I’m going to do when my stash of single use plastic bags runs out. In a single-person household they seemed like the ideal trash bag back in the day.

It fascinates me how lots of places have mixed recycling pickup that’s been going basically nowhere for the past few years. How long can momentum keep that going?

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As is the case in the recent law in New Jersey. Single use bags of any kind are banned.

Reminds me that Monsanto basically had a big infomercial for their plastics and chemical products in Disneyland. Technically the molecule in the ride (adventure through inner space) was a water molecule but they also had a showroom of Monsanto products and the house of the future made almost completely out of plastics and artificial building materials. The song was pretty dang catchy though. (Maybe no wonder since the Sherman brothers wrote it.)


Generally speaking that’s not what we do.

Paper tends to come from managed forests.

That’s not perfect, and it’s not like there aren’t other water management issues besides supply. But the idea that not using paper “save trees”, or that the kind of water savings people talk about is pertinent is kinda a non starter.

Especially vs plastic. Which is, again, not recyclable and not biodegradable. And comes from petroleum.

Even when we talk about single use plastics. People think about water bottles and plastic straws. Not the tens of thousands of feet of plastic wrap and packaging materials used to ship those products. Their components, and the packaging itself.

Every supermarket in the country has a tractor trailer sized dumpster out back that’s 90% plastic wrap pulled off shipping pallets.


Yes, energy cost/impacts can be mitigated using known technologies. There is no known technology that can address our plastic problem. Paper degrades, but every piece of plastic you’ve touched in your life (that hasn’t been burned) is still around. It’s become ubiquitous–it’s in us, in our food, in our water, and is likely having impacts we don’t understand yet.

My folks had this book on their shelves when I was a kid.

(My Dad taught HS Chemistry/AP Chem)

Featuring this photo about the wonders of polymers

" ‘Perched atop a 4,000° F. flame, this kitten is protected from the heat by a slab of silicone called RTV 615, a transparent rubber that resists intense heat by an unusual process called ablation—a slow, layer-by-layer decomposition.’"


I suspect that people who understand people either through weaponization of empathy or extensive consumer research are laughing at my naïve fantasies here; but the very existence of a video aimed at selling random children on the concept of ‘polymers, actually pretty cool!’ seems suspicious in itself.

In terms of its short term characteristics, where you can pretend the externalities don’t exist, plastics make a pretty strong case for themselves, all sorts of cool capabilities; and wherever there is some dispute over their virtues you’d expect it to play out hilariously with dueling experts from the Association of Paper and Fiberboard Producers vs. the National Plastics council arguing over who can contain a dozen eggs more cheaply and attractively; not in front of a general audience.

If something seems like an OK enough idea; and then someone still goes and makes a video about how it’s not just good, it’s your friend, you have to wonder why they doth protest so much.

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“Did I tell you about the time I told the IRB that I had an adorable baby kitten and a blowtorch; and went on to publish?”