So in the first Extra Second, I deemed it appropriate to have consumerism as a December theme . December….Christmas…pretty fitting. This time, it’s January and now the manifestation of what was once familial gratitude has descended into a mound of cheaply manufactured material, perhaps to be washed into the ocean and unlikely to be biodegraded until the year 2468. Feeling shame for purchasing such at this point may be counter-intuitive due to the fact plastic is rather inescapable. This current argument has been brought to you by a plastic computer, plastic mouse and plastic keyboard. My plastic glasses have been used to observe this plastic in front of me, as I take a pensive sip from a plastic cup, containing a drink I paid for with my plastic money. Sure, I can assert my autonomy by simply purchasing less plastic BUT I cannot help but think of more impactful solutions. To hold everybody accountable for such a widely available commodity through the eyes of neoliberal ideals, neglects the circumstances of the underprivileged. Perhaps it’s cheaper and more time-effective to buy fruit and vegetables encased in the artificial matter, as opposed to purchasing the local unpackaged ones. Sometimes we’re thirsty on a train and the only source of water is a bottled version. Then again, for those who can afford to do such, should we vote collectively through our purchases to perhaps minimise plastic production? I have my own opinions on this, I personally think individual accountability of purchases is pretty petty focus of handling a global issue, in comparison to what we could do. But, for the sake of a discussion I ask the question: Should we be held accountable for the plastic we buy?
Plastic Facts (ecowatch.com)
- Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
- 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.
- Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.
- We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.
- Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).
- Some of these compounds found in plastic have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
Documented successful solutions of plastic reduction:
Ever since the 5p bag charge was introduced in supermarkets, plastic bag usage has dropped 85%. This is a 2016 statistic so it’s likely that the usage has dropped even more. The revenue from the plastic bags are also donated to local charities. The project my friend Alex is involved with has made all Tescos in Glasgow City Centre to give people the chance to vote for a portion of the money raised from plastic bags to go to the Springburn Park Community Village. The 5p bag charge is now being extended as a requirement for all shops too, including local. Needless to say the development of the charge was not solely a direct action by the government, but a response to the pressure of public attitudes. Such is exasperated by those collecting and informing statistics, photographs and works of art.
Plastic destined for land fills can be used to create fix roads. “British engineer Toby McCartney has devised an innovative process to replace much of the crude oil-based asphalt in pavement with tiny pellets of plastic created from recyclable bottles. The result is a street that’s 60 percent stronger than traditional roadways, 10 times longer-lasting, and a heck of a lot better for the environment.”
We can also build houses with recycled plastic for just a little over £5,000. This is an article I read on inhabitat.com.
- Colombian company Conceptos Plásticos saw two pressing issues in the world and decided to tackle both with recycled building materials. One issue is the housing crisis, prevalent in Latin America where 80 percent of the population now resides in urban areas. The second is the overwhelming amount of plastic crowding landfills. To combat these issues, Conceptos Plásticos recycles plastic into LEGO-like building blocks that families can use to easily construct their own homes.
- Conceptos Plásticos works with local communities to source plastic and rubber and train locals on the building process. With the building blocks, locals can build their own houses, emergency shelters, community halls, and classrooms. A home for one family will take four people five days to construct with the recycled building blocks – and there’s no construction experience necessary. The blocks fit together like LEGOs.
- Not only are the pieces easy to work with, they’ll resist natural disasters as well. Conceptos Plásticos puts an additive that makes the product fire-resistant, and since the blocks are made of plastic, they’ll also resist earthquakes. The company reports their “construction system is 30 percent cheaper” than systems traditionally utilized in rural areas. A standard home can be constructed for just $5,200.
- The plastic building blocks will degrade around 500 years or more down the road, but for now they offer shelters for families who can’t afford other housing or are fleeing crises.
Though there’s been evidence to suggest that landfills don’t pose a risk to us as much as we once thought, the devastation of plastic is still very much present in our oceans.
Here’s some statistical data on the matter (ecowatch.com):
- More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year
- Plastic in the ocean breaks down into such small segments that pieces of plastic from a one liter bottle could end up on every mile of beach throughout the world.
- Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California and is the largest ocean garbage site in the world. This floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one.
- One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
- 44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.
There are luckily solutions to this incredibly depressing issue. The Ocean’s Clean Up is a non-profit organisation, dedicating to clearing the oceans via energy neutral modern technology. This technology is still being developed. According to their website cleaning up the Great Pacific using conventional methods – vessels and nets – would take thousands of years and tens of billions of dollars to complete. Their passive systems are estimated to remove half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years. A recyclable floater is used together with a screen to detect and catch plastic. Scale model tests have shown that they’ll be able to catch any plastic in between 1 centimetre and several metres longs. The float very much acts like plastic and therefore naturally heads towards plastic rich area, with help from natural forces like waves. Once the system is full, a support vessel empties the system using pumps and belts, before shipping the plastic back to land for processing and recycling. (info provided by theoceancleanup.com)
Tue Greenfort is a Danish artist who uses an imperceptible approach to address the issues of climate change. For an exhibition in 2007, persuaded the gallery to reduce the air-conditioning to cause a 2 degree temperature rise. This was to mimic the estimated global temperature increase that we’d be experiencing over the next 50 years (according to a 2006 Stern review). The money they saved on air-condition that day went directly towards an environmental organisation to meet the artist’s wishes. Now in relation to plastic solutions: should more artists take this approach? Do artists have a duty to persuade action or at least to finance it?
Ok so the reason this topic originally came to be tonight theme is due to the endless conversations I have had with my friend Ruby. In rancour we’d define this time as the age of plastic – a once bronze age has altered into this. If our planet is to remain, archaeologists would dig up our fossilised containers and Barbies and indeed establish our present as the plastic era. We’d too consider whether today’s people have become reflective of that, apparent in the decreased authenticity and in favour of reality television stars becoming presidents. Having said this, the rise of Trump may also be a sign of plastic rejection – advocating authenticity . Neolibralists like Obama, Hilary Clinton, Bush and Blair have been a charismatic front for the deaths they have committed and specialist interests, allowing mass comfort and trust in such figures and their decisions. Whereas Trump, through his sheer intolerance and stupidly, has sparked a mistrust in the governmental system and therefore maybe recognise we ought to take matters into our own hands (what she should’ve always done). Journal Will Storr has raised the point of neolibralism being eaten at both end – by both the left and the right. The left may reject the global market due to the social issues it raises and the right, possibly for the purpose of immigration. With all this said, what do you think? Is the amount of plastic in today’s society reflected in the faces of the people?