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Living with Nature: Plastic Waste Free


Alexander Parkes & Leo Baekland, names that few would have heard of, have our gratitude for many things, but most importantly for the invention of what is now known loosely as plastic.

History is steeped in irony, but arguably none more so than that of plastic. Alexander Parkes manufactured the first ever material (Parkesine) now known as plastic in 1867 as a substitute for Ivory and tortoise shell, whose use in all sorts of materials was leading to a great reduction of the wildlife species. In 1907, Leo Baekland patented the first fully synthetic plastic, a material which has much more in common to the one of today, leading to an explosion in its use for consumer goods.

Fast forward 150+ years, and the material that was designed to save wildlife is arguably creating a bigger problem in the entire ecosystem. But the problem is not Plastic per se; it is the misuse of Plastic, and our inability and irresponsibility to dealing and managing the plastic waste.

From Wonder Material to a World Class Problem

Plastic has solved so many problems, from being used to create hip and knee replacement joints, to replacement arteries used in heart surgery; from insulation tubes housing copper electric cables to space and fire safety suits. Used responsibly, as it was largely until the second world war, this wonder material has made a life changing contribution and saved countless lives.

But human greed, laziness, and commercialisation has flipped the tide over the past 70 years as the “low cost” plastic, driven by entrepreneurs and industrialists undercut and replaced the traditional natural materials like glass, tin, wood, paper, cotton in its application. In the name of “economic growth”, plastic powered our economies post the second world war. This again was not the problem.

The PROBLEM, was, is and will be, how do you manage the waste.

“Live Simply so that others may simply live” – Mahatma Gandhi

The Scandinavian principle of Lagom, embodied by Mahatma Gandhi and other scholars, offers hints to the solution. Plastic production has grown 230 times from 2 million tonnes per year in 1950, to 460 million tonnes per year in 2019. In 70 years, the world had produced over 9.5 billion tonnes of plastic far outpacing the growth of population. Put simply, our lifestyles and life choices, no doubt influenced by the powerful marketing and sales efforts of the large industrial producers, are now responsible for needless consumption of this material.

Simplifying our lifestyle and reducing needless consumption, embodying the principle of Lagom would make a huge difference in not only reducing plastic waste, but carbon emissions, whilst being rewarded with lower costs and more money in our pocket to spend on that once in a lifetime experiences, or making precious memories with your loved ones.

Many hands make light work

The plastic waste problem is so huge, most people just don’t know where to even begin. But equally, humanity is made up of 7 billion people. If each person changed one habit, gave up one type of plastic, the problem becomes smaller.

The New South Wales government in Australia, took a huge step in helping its people to make this small change, by banning single use plastic – one of the most polluting kinds of plastic. Many other governments have and are moving towards similar legislation, driven by their Voters demand. If we all demanded this, our governments would also do the same, giving us the opportunity to make our difference.

But I still need disposable packaging…

Innovation and ingenuity, two of the most marvellous human traits, have been busy at work. We now have so many options, with packaging from Agricultural waste, recycled paper, bamboo, seaweed and lots of natural biomaterials that are biodegradable, compostable, recyclable and most importantly reusable! Do you really need to dispose of that packaging – why not reuse or repurpose to a better cause?

Many food and beverage companies, from small crisps makers to huge multinational giants are now putting huge investments into sustainable materials. This is not out of generosity, but response to demand from you, the people.

So keep demanding better quality, higher sustainability, stronger accountability and you would have made a difference, even if you do not see it.

Change is gradual, but the impact that follows is life-changing – Good or bad change, the choice is in all our hands.

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