I work with a number of "Boomer" architects, planners and designers. And every once in a while they remind me that back in the 1970s during the Carter Administration they did a lot of innovative thinking on the green front. While those of us swept up in this recent wave of greenitis think that we invented the mindset, it's actually been around for a long time -actually a VERY long time - even before my boomer colleagues.
Reading yesterday's OP-ED in the NYTimes by Susan Freinkel, she give me some context on plastic I hadn't thought of before. While I have recently become fairly anti-plastic - particularly with the concern over toys manufactured in China (I have a newborn) - Freinkel suggests that plastic, at one time, was the answer to our environmental problems:
The earliest plastics were invented as the substitutes for dwindling supplies of natural materials like ivory or tortoiseshell. When the American John Wesley Hyatt patented celluloid in 1869, his company pledged that the new man made material, used in jewelry, cobs, buttons and other items would bring "respite" to the elephant and tortoise because it would 'no longer be necessary to ransack the earth in pursuit of substances which are constantly growing scarcer.Freinkel goes on to comment that the problem is not in fact plastic itself, but how we make and use it today. We make it into disposable products and then throw these products away within 24 hours of use. I couldn't agree more. It is true that much of the focus of environmental efforts is on recycling rather than reduction. We feel we can justify buying lots of "stuff" and packaging if we just dispose of it correctly. Truth be told, I'm absolutely one of those people. I get all self-righteous that I'm putting things in the right bin before I take ownership of the fact that I shouldn't have bought all that stuff in the first place.
So I guess I need to revise previous statements I've made about plastic. I'm not against ALL plastic, just the stuff made to be tossed that leeches away in our garbage dumps like one-time-use bottles and bags. I LIKE plastic in solar panels, lighter cars and planes (reducing fossil fuel use) and medical devices that keep people alive. I also like the plastic that helps my clothes last longer, prevents my 5 year old from breaking glass (thank goodness for reusable cups and plates) and makes lots of things affordable.
Image: Flickr galessa's plastics' photostream