Argument i had today: plastic is more sustainable than paper

Meyersaurus

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Okay, so my mother went vegan approximately a year after I did, too. She doesn't really do it for the environment's sake (even though she says she does, but I will explain this soon) but for the animals.

She basically never even tries to reduce her plastic consumption. She will prefer plastic boxes over glass jars and so on... Her consumption has always been based on convenience rather than health, environment or anything else. Anyway here's the story:

Today I went grocery shopping with her (as I live in the Netherlands, and usually only visit my parents once a month or so, I like to cook for them sometimes) and she literally refused to buy the vegetables that weren't packaged in plastic. Even worse: She insisted on buying the pre-chopped vegetables wrapped in plastic (she bought over ten of them). I confronted her by telling her that this was a huge waste of plastic and she then replied: "Oh please, plastic is even way more sustainable than paper."
1. Even if it were true, the vegetables I tried persuading her to buy didn't have packaging, so she wouldn't have been supporting anything "less sustainable" than plastic if she had bought the non-packaged veggies.
2. What the **** is she talking about? I responded that: 1. Given that plastic can only be recycled up to 9 times, it will eventually still end up as waste even if it is actually recycled and used. 2. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource, trees grow and are, therefore, a renewable resource. 3. The use of recycled plastic is (for whatever ridiculous reason) more expensive than the use of new plastic, therefore, even if you do recycle it, it will probably be dumped anyway.
She then shrugged and said that trees are not a renewable resource and repeated that plastic is better than paper (which had nothing to do with the veggies, again: wtf?) and added that due to the packaged vegetables being chopped, they took less place, which consequently means that more vegetables could have been transported in the same van, thus she was saving on CO2. I then replied "What about the machines that chop and peal your vegetables?"

Long story short: No matter what I said, she would just say "NO" and insist on the idea that plastic were the most sustainable option in this case (or ever?). How can she possibly think that?? After a while or arguing I just told her that this was the stupidest thing I have ever heard, and then she scolded me for being rude haha.

Honestly, just to make sure: Are there any articles or studies I can rely on which specifically point out the differences between plastic, paper, glass etc? I feel like I have to reference my arguments for them to be heard.

What is more, I am currently studying sustainable development, so I am 100% percent certain that plastic is NOT better for the environment than wood/paper. I agree that none of the alternatives are perfect, but come on...

Any thoughts on that, please?
 

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Clearly she is incorrect. where did she get her information from?:joy:
 

Meyersaurus

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Clearly she is incorrect. where did she get her information from?:joy:
Yes, clearly. But, as I said, she insisted on this "fact" :confounded:
That's what I asked her, she said she would forward me her sources of information, but I'm pretty sure she won't find any:')
 

Jamie in Chile

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Plastic is worse because it's safer for animals to eat paper, and because plastic lasts longer in terms of degrading. It's also possible to replant trees and cancel out the negative effect of the creation of the paper which you can't do with mining for fossil fuels for plastic. As as she accepts these basic facts, further sources are not really required.

I think you need to change how and when you make the arguments rather than the arguments themselves. You seem to be expecting someone to reverse their opinion in 5 minutes because you said so. Not how it works. Give her time to reflect and build in the arguments more steadily, looking for steadier behaviour change over time.

People are not rational but emotional. It's how we are evolved. Now that you've called her stupid, by changing her opinion to yours, it would be like admitting she is stupid. You've just made it harder for her emotionally to change her mind.

Reasoning evolved as a defense mechanism, not as a search for truth. She is using reasoning to defend her existing behavior, not as a search for truth. To stop this process you need to take her off the defensive and get her into a more open minded place to begin when she doesn't feel attacked or offended. Open the discussion in a less confrontational way by acknowledging the commitment to the environment she has shown with veganism, and framing the discussion as asking for her advice about plastic.

Read the classic "How to win friends and influence people" for some ideas about how to convince people.
 
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Aha! The old Paper vs Plastic Controversy.
This is sort of an old discussion but several new issues have arisen that do change and reshape this old thing.

However, the answer to this old question is best answered with "it depends" and "it's complicated.

I usually would do a little extra work to come up with specific numbers and references but I know this subject so well I don't think I need to look up anything (famous last words). Also, I'm pretty sure that when Forest Nymph gets back from Spring Break she will back me up and/or dispute me with references.
Besides, you are the one studying sustainable development. Clearly, this is your job.

Instead of hitting your points one by one, I'm going to back up a lot and start off with the fundamentals. It might not be necessary but I think when I get to those "new issues" it will be a good idea to be clear on the old issues.

Here in America, we have the 3Rs. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. I think it's important to remember the order. Reduce is by far the most effective. Recycle is the least effective. Even more so when I get to the "new issues".

For example, let's take coffee cups. You could go to the coffee shop and they will give you a cardboard coffee cup and you can throw it in the recycle container. Here in California, we are just realizing that those coffee cups have a wax coating that makes them un-recyclable. Whether or not they can be composted is sort of an open question. So obviously buying a reusable coffee cup is the much better thing to do. Not so fast. Let's say you buy a $20 stainless steel coffee cup. (or even a $10 ceramic one). How many resources go into making that cup vs the resources that go into a disposable cup. I read somewhere that you would have to use a reusable coffee cup 5 or 10 thousand times before the resources and energy break even. (and remember it takes water and energy to clean your cup. Oh, and don't forget the transportation costs. A thousand cardboard cups can fit in the same size one that could hold maybe 4 or 5 permanent cups.

Remember the depends and its complicated answer. Same thing here. My personal solution was to buy a coffee cup made of recycled plastic and then keep it for 20 years. which has to be some kind of record but still after something like 10,000 uses it's probably broke even in the resources department.

Another part of the whole paper vs plastic thing is as you mentioned paper is a renewable resource. Ok. but now we also have to look at the carbon footprint. Is cutting down a tree to make paper bags really the best choice now. Trees sequester carbon. Cutting them down for paper bags releases carbon.

You could recycle the paper bag. But even here in California where they charge you 25¢ for a paper bag (in my county the plastic grocery store bags are banned), most people don't recycle their bags. Even if they did the paper market is pretty much saturated. Here in California, we have warehouses full of paper that people put in the recycle bins. the waste disposal company is having trouble finding buyers for it. This is actually the internet's fault. If only people would start buying/reading newspapers again. Newspapers used to be a much much bigger consumer of recycled paper.

Another new issue is this: Here in California, China was our number one buyer of recyclable plastics. Now they don't buy any (probably Trump's fault ;). ) And now we have to buy some more warehouse to store out plastic garbage till we find a new use for it. HW assignment: Where does your recycled paper and plastic go?

And then, of course, some plastic ends up dumped in the ocean. Where they break up into millions of little pieces. Last week a dead whale in Italy was found to have 50 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Between CA and Hawaii, there is a floating island made of plastic. If you eat seafood, you are probably eating plastic.

Another new issue is that many of my local grocery stores have started using a new thing for their produce bags. (This one I actually tried to look up). I am not sure what they are made up but they are supposed to be more sustainable.

The best solution is reusable produce bags. Nylon washable mesh bags. I bought a pack of five 10 years ago. So they may have already broken even in the resources department. I don't wash them every time I use them ( i think you are supposed to) but I do throw them in the wash when I remember. Over the years, two of them have disappeared. (the same thing happens to my socks). So I went and bought another pack. (the new ones are much better - and cotton).

I also starting taking plastic jars to the bulk food aisle. They even subtract the weight of the jar when charging me.

You pointed out that plastic can be recycled up to nine times. Not sure about where you live but the kind of plastic that things like blueberries come in, or the plastic bags that prewashed spring mix comes or the cardboard and plastic container that presliced mushrooms come in is NOT recyclable. It's going into the landfill or the ocean. (besides the resources to create it)

Of less concern is the resources that go into it. those plastic bags for produce hardly weigh anything. And they are not made of pure petroleum. There is a lot of water that goes into that kind of plastic products. The more important issue is what happens to them afterward.

So I just reread your question and my answer and realized I took a very long time to not answer your question. But your mom is pretty much wrong on all counts.

The best solution is to buy things in bulk and use your own reusable bags. The only produce I have found I can't buy in bulk is berries. The other benefit of buying bulk is you can buy small amounts. If i was to buy a bag of baby spinach I'd probably end up throwing some of it away. Much better to buy just the amount I need.

And here is an idea for you. Buy you and your mom reusable mesh bags and a few plastic jars. (or reuse your old jars). Some grocery stores have reusable bags for sale right in the store. Or you can get them online.

Hey! Do you guys have Mother's Day? Maybe it would make a good present for your mom.

It is pretty clear that we should strive to use as little plastic as possible. It's even vegan. Reuse a bag - save a whale.
 

Meyersaurus

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Plastic is worse because it's safer for animals to eat paper, and because plastic lasts longer in terms of degrading. It's also possible to replant trees and cancel out the negative effect of the creation of the paper which you can't do with mining for fossil fuels for plastic. As as she accepts these basic facts, further sources are not really required.

I think you need to change how and when you make the arguments rather than the arguments themselves. You seem to be expecting someone to reverse their opinion in 5 minutes because you said so. Not how it works. Give her time to reflect and build in the arguments more steadily, looking for steadier behaviour change over time.

People are not rational but emotional. It's how we are evolved. Now that you've called her stupid, by changing her opinion to yours, it would be like admitting she is stupid. You've just made it harder for her emotionally to change her mind.

Reasoning evolved as a defense mechanism, not as a search for truth. She is using reasoning to defend her existing behavior, not as a search for truth. To stop this process you need to take her off the defensive and get her into a more open minded place to begin when she doesn't feel attacked or offended. Open the discussion in a less confrontational way by acknowledging the commitment to the environment she has shown with veganism, and framing the discussion as asking for her advice about plastic.

Read the classic "How to win friends and influence people" for some ideas about how to convince people.
I see your point, and I agree. But this isn't a matter of opinion but of facts..
 
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Forest Nymph

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I dunno, my mother is kind of a moron too, so I just opt out of speaking to her.

Anyone who says paper isn't a renewable resource is not even living in ecological reality, and if your mother disrespects your input merely because "she's the momma" then ...yeah.

If you're determined to convince her, and she can read (I have my doubts), just email her a bunch of articles and scientific studies.
 
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Forest Nymph

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Aha! The old Paper vs Plastic Controversy.
This is sort of an old discussion but several new issues have arisen that do change and reshape this old thing.

However, the answer to this old question is best answered with "it depends" and "it's complicated.

I usually would do a little extra work to come up with specific numbers and references but I know this subject so well I don't think I need to look up anything (famous last words). Also, I'm pretty sure that when Forest Nymph gets back from Spring Break she will back me up and/or dispute me with references.
Besides, you are the one studying sustainable development. Clearly, this is your job.

Instead of hitting your points one by one, I'm going to back up a lot and start off with the fundamentals. It might not be necessary but I think when I get to those "new issues" it will be a good idea to be clear on the old issues.

Here in America, we have the 3Rs. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. I think it's important to remember the order. Reduce is by far the most effective. Recycle is the least effective. Even more so when I get to the "new issues".

For example, let's take coffee cups. You could go to the coffee shop and they will give you a cardboard coffee cup and you can throw it in the recycle container. Here in California, we are just realizing that those coffee cups have a wax coating that makes them un-recyclable. Whether or not they can be composted is sort of an open question. So obviously buying a reusable coffee cup is the much better thing to do. Not so fast. Let's say you buy a $20 stainless steel coffee cup. (or even a $10 ceramic one). How many resources go into making that cup vs the resources that go into a disposable cup. I read somewhere that you would have to use a reusable coffee cup 5 or 10 thousand times before the resources and energy break even. (and remember it takes water and energy to clean your cup. Oh, and don't forget the transportation costs. A thousand cardboard cups can fit in the same size one that could hold maybe 4 or 5 permanent cups.

Remember the depends and its complicated answer. Same thing here. My personal solution was to buy a coffee cup made of recycled plastic and then keep it for 20 years. which has to be some kind of record but still after something like 10,000 uses it's probably broke even in the resources department.

Another part of the whole paper vs plastic thing is as you mentioned paper is a renewable resource. Ok. but now we also have to look at the carbon footprint. Is cutting down a tree to make paper bags really the best choice now. Trees sequester carbon. Cutting them down for paper bags releases carbon.

You could recycle the paper bag. But even here in California where they charge you 25¢ for a paper bag (in my county the plastic grocery store bags are banned), most people don't recycle their bags. Even if they did the paper market is pretty much saturated. Here in California, we have warehouses full of paper that people put in the recycle bins. the waste disposal company is having trouble finding buyers for it. This is actually the internet's fault. If only people would start buying/reading newspapers again. Newspapers used to be a much much bigger consumer of recycled paper.

Another new issue is this: Here in California, China was our number one buyer of recyclable plastics. Now they don't buy any (probably Trump's fault ;). ) And now we have to buy some more warehouse to store out plastic garbage till we find a new use for it. HW assignment: Where does your recycled paper and plastic go?

And then, of course, some plastic ends up dumped in the ocean. Where they break up into millions of little pieces. Last week a dead whale in Italy was found to have 50 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Between CA and Hawaii, there is a floating island made of plastic. If you eat seafood, you are probably eating plastic.

Another new issue is that many of my local grocery stores have started using a new thing for their produce bags. (This one I actually tried to look up). I am not sure what they are made up but they are supposed to be more sustainable.

The best solution is reusable produce bags. Nylon washable mesh bags. I bought a pack of five 10 years ago. So they may have already broken even in the resources department. I don't wash them every time I use them ( i think you are supposed to) but I do throw them in the wash when I remember. Over the years, two of them have disappeared. (the same thing happens to my socks). So I went and bought another pack. (the new ones are much better - and cotton).

I also starting taking plastic jars to the bulk food aisle. They even subtract the weight of the jar when charging me.

You pointed out that plastic can be recycled up to nine times. Not sure about where you live but the kind of plastic that things like blueberries come in, or the plastic bags that prewashed spring mix comes or the cardboard and plastic container that presliced mushrooms come in is NOT recyclable. It's going into the landfill or the ocean. (besides the resources to create it)

Of less concern is the resources that go into it. those plastic bags for produce hardly weigh anything. And they are not made of pure petroleum. There is a lot of water that goes into that kind of plastic products. The more important issue is what happens to them afterward.

So I just reread your question and my answer and realized I took a very long time to not answer your question. But your mom is pretty much wrong on all counts.

The best solution is to buy things in bulk and use your own reusable bags. The only produce I have found I can't buy in bulk is berries. The other benefit of buying bulk is you can buy small amounts. If i was to buy a bag of baby spinach I'd probably end up throwing some of it away. Much better to buy just the amount I need.

And here is an idea for you. Buy you and your mom reusable mesh bags and a few plastic jars. (or reuse your old jars). Some grocery stores have reusable bags for sale right in the store. Or you can get them online.

Hey! Do you guys have Mother's Day? Maybe it would make a good present for your mom.

It is pretty clear that we should strive to use as little plastic as possible. It's even vegan. Reuse a bag - save a whale.
The only way the mother would be correct if she was bringing resuable hard plastic jars or containers instead of using new packaging of any kind, or using plant-based plastics. The not buying veggies with no packaging at all is weird too. That's what kind of put me off...I'm like really ...okay...sounds like she just likes plastic and imagines it's "cleaner" or something.
 

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Okay, so my mother went vegan approximately a year after I did, too. She doesn't really do it for the environment's sake (even though she says she does, but I will explain this soon) but for the animals.

She basically never even tries to reduce her plastic consumption. She will prefer plastic boxes over glass jars and so on... Her consumption has always been based on convenience rather than health, environment or anything else. Anyway here's the story:
Haven't read further, just wanted to share preciousplastic.com
I believe she would be correct to resist the defacto liberal consensus that has it in for plastic... lots that could be added to that sentence lol but I'll continue with your post
 
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Jacob

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Aha! The old Paper vs Plastic Controversy.
This is sort of an old discussion but several new issues have arisen that do change and reshape this old thing.
<3
 

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Today I went grocery shopping with her (as I live in the Netherlands, and usually only visit my parents once a month or so, I like to cook for them sometimes) and she literally refused to buy the vegetables that weren't packaged in plastic. Even worse: She insisted on buying the pre-chopped vegetables wrapped in plastic (she bought over ten of them). I confronted her by telling her that this was a huge waste of plastic and she then replied: "Oh please, plastic is even way more sustainable than paper."
The amount of avocados that aren't sold in grocery stores and are simply thrown out because they rot before being sold... If it were up to me, my grocery store would just immediately peel them into air tight plastic packages... there is so much waste and of such a delicious fruit and it's because of this bizarre resistance to plastic... what... you chop up the packages and melt/re-extrude into some other product... put the precious plastic shipping containers everywhere, at the grocery stores, food banks, etc. They've turned recycling into this incredibly boring thing where you just collect everything in a bin... I blame the government and public education...
 

Jacob

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2. What the **** is she talking about? I responded that: 1. Given that plastic can only be recycled up to 9 times, it will eventually still end up as waste even if it is actually recycled and used. 2. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource, trees grow and are, therefore, a renewable resource. 3. The use of recycled plastic is (for whatever ridiculous reason) more expensive than the use of new plastic, therefore, even if you do recycle it, it will probably be dumped anyway.
lol, can only be recycled 9 times... I wonder how many times wood can be grinded down to sawdust and re-glued together... one of the final iterations of the plastic could be plastic bags for sandbag construction, you can build homes and facilities out of as common of a material as sand, earth, clay, cob, etc whatever happens to be there, the bag is just the arrangement mechanism... given how expensive real estate is you should not run out of uses for bags... you can also extrude into levers or lego's... long term materials that you just aren't going to need to melt down again...

It's like you're arguing against the one resource that is as close to free as possible for poor people...

Again, it's the government's fault, if recycling included the DIY tinkerer step where you pick the gear mold to fit your design... instead they made it as boring as possible...
 

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It's like you're arguing against the one resource that is as close to free as possible for poor people...
 

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I'm sorry @Jacob I don't understand your point.

I did say that the production/recycling of paper is not perfect. I'm not saying we should put everything into paper bags instead lol I'm saying if you have the opportunity to buy veggies without packaging, you should choose the non-packaged version.
Also I don't really understand how this:

It's like you're arguing against the one resource that is as close to free as possible for poor people...
relates to my argument with my mother. It's not about buying more expensive packaging for the sake of the environment it's about not buying packaging. This will eventually lead to you buying a smaller variety of products, which is consequently cheaper than buying all the stuff that I'm avoiding. Furthermore, this was no issue of cheap or expensive: The packaged pre-chopped vegetables were NOT cheaper than the non-packaged ones; This was a matter of convenience.
 
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I'm sorry @Jacob It's not about buying more expensive packaging for the sake of the environment it's about not buying packaging. This will eventually lead to you buying a smaller variety of products, which is consequently cheaper than buying all the stuff that I'm avoiding. Furthermore, this was no issue of cheap or expensive: The packaged pre-chopped vegetables were NOT cheaper than the non-packaged ones; This was a matter of convenience.
It's not the cost of the food, it's the cost of building homes and machines from plastic food packaging vs building homes and machines with materials you have to buy at the hardware store since you no longer have all of those free materials, either because you opt out of free resources or because the government implements a ban policy... Lol, it would be very discouraging if you still don't know what I'm trying to say...

I believe there are a lot of topics in this world where people like your mother might not be able to fully articulate the reasons but will have a correct intuition that there are reasons...
 

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It's not the cost of the food, it's the cost of building homes and machines from plastic food packaging vs building homes and machines with materials you have to buy at the hardware store since you no longer have all of those free materials, either because you opt out of free resources or because the government implements a ban policy... Lol, it would be very discouraging if you still don't know what I'm trying to say...

I believe there are a lot of topics in this world where people like your mother might not be able to fully articulate the reasons but will have a correct intuition that there are reasons...

I honestly don't.
 
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Jacob

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when she said:

"Oh please, plastic is even way more sustainable than paper."

If you just replace the word "sustainable" with the word "empowering", then yea... sustainable in the sense that it would last forever where wood will eventually rot but also in cost and re-use...
 

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China has already banned importing plastic.
Vietnam will in 2025

  • When China tightened its standards for accepting foreign recycling materials, U.S. cities got stuck having nowhere to send them
  • A year later, recyclables are piling up or being buried again, as alternative markets remain scarce
  • Many cities have resorted to ending or drastically cutting their recycling programs
  • Instead of earning revenue by selling collected recyclables, some communities are paying to get rid of them
Read more here
and more here

Lesson learned: Reduce. Reuse.

The paper recycling market is in a little better shape but warehouses in California are filling up with paper to be recycled. And no one seems to want it. Your community may or may not be in better shape. the writing is on the wall.
 
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