Nobody likes to pay high gas prices. Bringing them down has even become a political campaign issue. The fact of the matter is that Americans pay less for gas than Canadians or Europeans. It’s also important to remember that crude oil is used to make much more than gasoline: plastic, for example. The high price of oil is causing many corporations to find sustainable substitutes for petroleum-based raw materials. That is a good thing.
According to the US Department of Energy, nearly a quarter of the petroleum used in this country goes into the manufacture of petrochemicals. Petrochemicals are the heart of plastics, polyester fabrics, and fertilizers among other things. Far too much of the plastic is packaging or disposable food service items.
The amount of plastic in the waste stream has become a major environmental headache. In principle, all plastic is recyclable. In practice, only two types are widely accepted by municipal recycling programs, and consumers recycle only a small fraction of that.
The best and most sustainable way to keep plastic out of the waste stream is to use less of it in the first place. As rising costs of petrochemicals begin to eat in to corporate bottom lines, many corporations are beginning to explore other alternatives. Many, in fact, have sustainability offices to help them look for ways to cut both their costs and environmental impact.
I have already reported on how one start-up company is creating an alternative to polystyrene (Styrofoam™) using mushrooms. That product is but one example of a new type of plastic, bioplastics.
- Both Pepsico and Coca Cola are developing plant-based plastics based on sugar cane for bottling their products.
- Ford Motor Co. uses a foam made from soybeans in its upholstery and a resin made from kenaf (a member of the cotton family) for door bolsters.
- BioSolar of Santa Clarita, California, now uses a plastic from castor beans instead of the usual polymers for the back sheets of its solar panels.
McDonald’s, on the other hand, is turning to paper as a substitute for Styrofoam™ hot drink cups. It has begun a trial of double-walled paper cups in some mostly West Coast stores. If it works out, look for it to spread nationwide and for other companies to ditch plastic cups in favor of the more sustainable paper.
Meanwhile, some shipping companies are turning to biodiesel. The high cost of petroleum is leading to innovation, new industries, and new products that are both cheaper and more sustainable.
High gas prices are already forcing automobile manufacturers to work on boosting fuel economy and develop electric vehicles. I like to see the prices at the pump go down as much as anybody, but if they remain high enough, it will spur similar innovations in how we power our cars.
Imagine ending our dependence on imported oil. Imagine all the innovative new products that can be made with renewable resources grown right in the US. Imagine the economic, environmental, and geopolitical advantages that will result. Then spend your money and make your choices so that reducing our oil consumption to sustainable levels will become a reality as soon as possible.
Photo credit: Public domain, from Idaho National Laboratory
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- Listed On: June 07, 2012