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Hindsighters: Seven Plastic Lessons Learned

June 18, 2010

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My t.v. doesn’t listen when I give it pieces of my mind
it keeps making everything the same size
pain is pleasure when it’s televised

plastic is forever

artificial florists
sell you flowers that will never die
they cut down the real forests
for paper petals engraved with borrowed lies

(lyrics from Plastic is ForeverSam Phillips )

Friday was my final day at Pebble in the Pond’s office (soon to be relocated to the address shown in the header), and I figured a little parting  ‘hindsighter’ of my own is due.

We learned a lot of things here during the JCP project — and the work is on-going with YMCA-funded eco-intern Amelia Gordon on board as the next pebble to hit this pond very soon.

Apart from the huge amount of plastic facts and research into plastic alternatives, plastic reduction strategies and initiatives worldwide, most of the lessons I learned were people-based. After all, it’s not plastic that’s the problem really, it’s our abuse of this polluting, fossil-fuel-based resource. Plastic pollution didn’t just happen to us; we have been nurturing it for about half a century. And the fact that it is a social issue makes it messy indeed.

For instance, there is a lot of lobbying money and influence on the ‘plastic industry’ side. There is a huge incentive to keep plastic going: it provides jobs, and gives us access to shiny, cheap, disposable, light-weight, strong and durable products.

On the other side we have individuals and organizations such as Pebble in the Pond and Algalita who have the hard work of raising awareness that there is a problem with plastic at all,  and helping to find and fund alternatives; these can be scarce, more expensive, less convenient and sometimes, they have their own drawbacks.

It’s a world of ‘grays’ when it comes to alternatives, as we found when trying to rate different types of shopping bags. This side of the argument relies on volunteers and hard-to-come-by donations, grants and job-creation projects. The other side has the huge oil and plastic lobbies, and a widespread acceptance of all things plastic. It starts looking like a minor miracle that there is any progress toward reducing and eliminating plastics from our daily lives.  But there is some progress: We learned through our bag-count that 17% of all shopping bags used here in Powell River are of the reusable variety. Of course, despite the fact that the huge majority of these ‘reusables’ are in fact also plastic (partially recycled polypropylene) it’s a step in the right direction. There is a long way to go, but if we increase this amount by 20% per year, in the space of 5 years we will have averted 4 million plastic bags (about 3.4 MT) from landfills. And that’s just plastic bag waste!

So, here are my top 7  ‘hindsighters’
1.    Plastic: It’s everywhere; it’s so pervasive that it has become ‘environmental’. We eat from it, we dress in it, we drive in it, we live in it.
2.    It’s not immediately obvious that it’s everywhere. Becoming aware that it is, is already a huge deal.
3.    Plastics are an integral part of our ‘cheap-oil’ based  economy and culture. The same cheap, subsidized oil industry that brings us oil spills, wars, and cheap flights to Mexico.
4.    Replacement of plastics by other materials can be expensive and may cause other issues. Consumption itself has to be curtailed, with plastics at the forefront of our reduction strategy.
5.    Doing without plastic takes forethought, creativity, time, money and sacrifices. Not everyone has these attributes, energy and resources. We have to make living without plastic as easy and even as fun as possible. Maybe something akin the the 50-Mile Eat Local Challenge. (full disclosure: I help run this event)
6.    Plastic is forever. Almost all the plastic that has ever been produced is still here — somewhere. Recycling does not reduce the amount of plastic that is already here, and incinerating is extremely toxic.
7.   The good ‘bad news’: As our oil resources deplete (and hopefully not entirely into the Gulf of Mexico!) plastic production and transportation are probably going to become much more expensive. This will in itself cause a major reduction in plastic use, along with an across-the-board reduction in consumer goods, generally. If things pan out this way, this will be a painful change that will affect every aspect of our lives from the food we eat to how we get around. We can help make that transition smoother by starting to eliminate this toxic and polluting influence in our lives sooner rather than later.

Have a great summer, all!

A Retrospective or “7 Plastic Lessons learned”

  1. It’s everywhere
  2. It’s not obvious that it’s everywhere
  3. It’s an integrated part of our economy and culture – it’s ‘environmental’ in scope
  4. Replacement by other materials is expensive and causes other issues
  5. Doing without plastic takes thought, time, money and sacrifices
  6. It’s oil and there is a lot of money involved in keeping it around
  7. It’s going to become more expensive and probably that will solve many other problems.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2010 6:13 pm

    Hi Karen, good points all. I think many of us are starting from different places (we all have the different discovery or experience that makes us say “Enough!”) and ending up in a very similar place – that we all have to stop buying, using, consuming, discarding so much STUFF.

    Plastic stuff especially, for a number of reasons, but STUFF in general too, whatever it’s made of. And energy, which in a way is another form of STUFF (and most physical stuff has huge amounts of energy embodied in it too).

    Here’s to less STUFF and more fun 🙂

    Kevin

  2. June 25, 2010 6:14 pm

    Oops, Giovanni not Karen. Sorry G!

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