How in the heck did we get to this plastic wasteland? Were we hoodwinked by marketeers? Are we zombies going through our day? Did it start out good and go bad? Was it a perfect storm?
Like so many things, it started out with a benefit and went south later. In 1862 when Parksine, the first form of plastic, was invented as a replacement for ivory and turtle shell for billiard balls, it was an incredible day for elephants and turtles!!
Fast forward to the late 1940s. Plastic was around, but it wasn’t part of everyday use. People had become extremely efficient with re-use and minimal waste while conserving for the years of WWII. Projecting myself into the era, I wonder if I’d been weary from sacrificing, and ready for whimsical? How do I respond when someone offers me something that eases any part of my work day? Something I had no idea I wanted. How do I respond to that thing I didn’t know I needed, but truthfully, does an effective job?
Thus the perfect storm was created. Something that diminished the need for ivory, served a noble purpose, eventually morphed into someone seeing more opportunities. Enter plastic wrap and the single use plastic bag.
People were accustom to recycling, repurposing. They weren’t seeking a different way but in the 1950s, ad campaigns created a need, drove a need. It’s true, we all love trying new things. Follow that up with another market for oil, followed by the greed god waking, and here we are. We are some crazy level of addicted to single use plastic. Our landfills can’t keep up.
We are made to feel we need to adjust our behavior. When I wrap my half eaten apple in plastic, I am the problem. We can, and absolutely need to stop being zombified plastic consumers, but let’s also turn our attention to the producers. The oil companies, which spur the production of plastics, need to adjust their creation, or at minimum, recycle more of it. Sure some plastic gets recycled but that is also asking us, the consumer, to fix the issue, not the producer. Possibly, if we the consumer, ‘just say no’ to plastic then they can’t sell their wares; we force their adjustment. However they, the producer, can do the right thing too. They can say yes to the planet and ‘just say no’ to the profits.
Many consumers are doing our part. The producers can do their part.
Photos from presentation by Eco-Cycle from Boulder Colorado.