I’ve seen a similar joke in more than one movie or TV program. The gist is something like this. Two people are trying to sneak through a door. One replies that they have a master key. They promptly reveal a hammer and break the window. “Fits any lock,” they say.
On the one hand, the logic is inescapable. The hammer, applied from the correct end, can break down many barriers, to say nothing of windows and doors. It is not without consequences though, and not simply for our homeowner. The person wielding that tool will have to deal with broken glass, jagged edges, and evidence of mischief. The reward, then, ought to be great.
How much better for them, then, if they actually had a key.
I suspect you know where I’m going with this. Plastic is our hammer, and, indeed it seems to fit almost any lock. There’s very little that can’t be done with it. Plastic replaces many, many things, like rubber, or metal, or more expensive finishing materials. It is a jack of all trades, and is ideally suited to many of them.
And yet, like the hammer, it is not without its drawbacks. Plastic is made from scarce natural resources, resources that cannot be easily replaced. It also leaves much behind, material that is a blight on beaches and in our oceans, not to mention the landfills in which it builds up. There its long-lasting nature no longer has any appeal. And yet, we persist in believing our hammer is the key to any lock.
None among us wants to be without a hammer. Yet who among us would want to turn a screw with one? Powerful as it is, it is the wrong tool for the job. Fortunately, we don’t have to choose a single tool. We have a whole box to choose from, with screwdrivers for delicate work, wrenches for bolts, and a level to keep us on the straight and narrow. We need them all, but not all at the same time.
Plastic fits real needs, but not all needs. When it comes to bottles, it lasts too long, and leaves to much jagged and dangerous material behind. We need to broaden our toolkit, to include other more innovative options better suited to the task at hand—like, for instance, the Paper Water Bottle, made from renewable resources, with the goal of Backyard Compostability. That may not be the key to EVERY lock—but it is certainly A Refreshing Alternative.