The real problem of plastic: Waste or Wastefulness?


I recently visited an exhibition put together by young designers on the theme of sustainability where a very interesting gate was designed to suggest the need of transition using plastic waste on one side and bamboo strips of the other.

As sustainability is the most fashionable theme running amongst the youth across the world, I love to use it to needle them into thinking so I innocently asked the young lady to make me understand what was the concept behind the gate.

As we live in the twitted world of bits and pieces of cliché, she respectfully explained to me how plastic is not biodegradable while bamboo is and hence, we need to move away from plastic and start using biodegradable material, and then made a leap of faith by linking the two with climate change.

As she regurgitated the brand new science invented by Greta the great, I led her to the classic trap of the need to lock the carbon to “save” the planet and left her thinking what is wrong with plastic that seem to trap carbon for eons.

I really pity the young kids living in the age of twitter surrounded by cute dogs and trees that need to be saved and plastic that is a villain as they have everything so muddled up that they have no option but to build their life-compass from various cliché sans foundation.

If I had more time, it was easy to make the young kids get worried as be it bamboo or any other tree, it is absolutely not a carbon sink as nature surely never wanted any life form to be. In fact, carbon is the main ally of Life on Earth on our planet so She would be petrified if carbon starts getting trapped. So, till people made furniture and homes from the wood, a tree, like any cooperating life form was expected to play a huge role in returning the carbon and other organic compounds instead of hoarding them.

A honest tree was to shed leaves that decomposed all through its life cycle and release all kinds of “greenhouse gases” and then die and decompose to set free even more. So, using wood or planting more trees just because they are “biodegradable” is obviously in conflict if you don’t want carbon dioxide or methane that are making Greta angry.

On the other hand, all plastics are made of carbon and in theory, if we replace all natural plants and trees with plastic plants and trees, we will surely have trapped a lot more carbon and will also have a double advantage of stopping the cycle of decomposition of organic material contributing to greenhouse gasses!

As we now have a new breed of science that should be called pop-science, i.e., the “science” that makes emotional “sense” without having rational base, I will leave it at that and point out what we seem to be missing the forest for the trees.

We have become a bit too busy maligning plastic as a waste, but that is actually not really a threat and I do believe that nature has an counter that should emerge soon.

Plastic is not biodegradable today because it has just arrived on the scene and biology hasn’t really questioned it; but, if it permeates into the fabric of nature, it will create a biological niche that some contenders, most likely bacteria will colonize with glee. So, I would not really worry too much on that front as the other bigger front that plastic has opened up.

The real threat of plastic is not that it is a dangerous waste, it is even more dangerous because it helps humans have a very wasteful lifestyle.

The arrival of plastic has almost changed the way we live.

It has allowed the cancer of mass production and taken it to a new level as it has allowed designers incredible amount of freedom to lure us into buying things that we don’t need.

Remove plastic from the armory of designers and manufacturers and we will instantly get a far more sustainable lifestyle purely because a lot of wasteful things will become impossible to make.

I wish that our design schools start waking up, but not to the need of sustainable lifestyle by going “green” in the cliched way as it is happening today. We need designers to think in exactly opposite direction than what is the grain of the world and economy today. We want designers to question if we really need what they are trying to make more attractive to sell.

The term user-friendly needs to be reinvented today as most of what is currently user-friendly is not at all friendly to the species that the users belong to.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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