If gas tanks, will there be enough plastics to go around?

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

You see those plastics, out of which so many things are built today, come from a part of oil … not the part that becomes gasoline, another part.

That’s right, most plastics are largely petrochemicals.

And while gasoline (from petroleum) makes our crowded highways possible, plastics make possible just about everything we have that isn’t made by Mother Nature.

Plastics have taken the place of wood and things made of wood.

Plastics have taken the place of many natural resources, from aluminum to cooper to steel.

Plastics have taken the place of the natural fibers, too, like cotton, wool and silk.

Go shopping and what we buy is plastic packaged in plastic; we pay for our purchases with plastic credit cards and take our groceries home in plastic bags.

Sending an e-mail? You’re typing on a plastic keyboard, scrolling with a plastic mouse and looking at a monitor encased in a plastic computer that is hooked to the outside world with plastic cables.

Watching a favorite TV program? You’re changing the channels with a plastic remote, which signals a plastic television set while you’re sitting in a plastic chair drinking a favorite beverage from a plastic bottle.

Calling a friend? You’re either dialing from the landline or cell phone that’s made of plastic.

Driving to work? You’re encased in a car that uses plastic fenders, while you’re hunkered over a plastic dashboard and turning a plastic wheel to access Interstate 40.

Watering the livestock? You’re carrying water in the back of your pickup in a huge plastic jug or you’re turning a knob so that water can run through the PVC pipe.

By now you get the idea — we’re surrounded by the conveniences of plastics from the trash can liner to the containers for our leftovers in the fridge that’s also made of a lot of plastics.

(And don’t you just hate the new grainy vinyl that refrigerator doors are made of now and all those crevices that never come clean?)

But there could come a time when we may not have sufficient petroleum to make all the gas we need — or all the plastic we need or think we want.

In addition to our transportation needs, that’s partly why the United States has embarked on a search for alternatives to petroleum.

Scientists are searching for non-petroleum alternatives to gasoline, alternatives that will still make cars go. They’re looking for non-petroleum alternatives to plastic.

What alternatives?

Renewable alternatives.

Alternatives that we can grow, like corn and other grains that can be (expensively) turned into ethanol, and methanol, and such, to fuel the cars that will be built by our automakers so they can use these new bio-fuels.

Trouble is, which of the potential alternative fuels should the new bio-cars be built for?

What about renewable alternatives for plastics?

Should we take the things we grow and turn them into synthetic plastics?

Or should we think back to when we were content with cotton, wool, aluminum, steel, and wood?

That wood be simpler – wooden it?

Chelle Delaney is associate publisher for the Quay County Sun. Contact her at 461-1952 or by e-mail: