A Brief History of the Plastic Pollution Crisis and How Community Can Solve it
In 1907 Plastic was invented. For the first time a synthetic polymer was synthesized cheaply enough to be a viable material of creation for ‘all types of articles.’ Leo Baekeland had created Bakelite, and the rest is history. Though the real growth in plastics happened post WWII, through the 50s and finally exploding into the 60s with basically plastic everything, plastic had useful value from day 1.
Albatross Designs thinks it is an important, and often not conceded, point: plastics [and oil for that matter] have been able to benefit humanity in significant ways. In the most logical of chronologies, the history of the Plastic Pollution Crisis begins when Plastics start to harm us. This point may have been an inevitable part of industrial transformation given the constraints of capitalism’s traditional focus on profit above all else. However, we feel that when we nevertheless deny some of the benefits fossil fuels yielded civilization we undermine our own arguments against them. At the core of many of the fossil fuel industry’s arguments against the environment lay the talking point of “[fossil fuel] isn’t all bad, and… is actually overall good still.” The issue with these moderate arguments (e.g., you can’t just get off fossil fuel or the world economy will stop; You just need to recycle and everything will be ok, etc.) is that, perhaps more than anything else, they de-motivate the average citizen from change. These arguments simply and effectively downplay the issue into something that seems as if the absurdity of our plastic consumption should automatically be accepted as normal.
These arguments are incredibly effective because most people don’t hate the environment, they just, say, also grew up influenced by car culture too. Or, by fashion magazines that touted the newest look as a must for their wardrobe this season. Maybe we aren’t really that much influenced by anything like this, but We do like to cook. And when we go to our neighborhood Kroger’s we’re bombarded with plastic wrapped items that we need. What are we really supposed to do about this anyway if that’s our only option? The recipe calls for cinnamon.
We think everyone needs to acknowledge the past for a moment, and then move on to a collective idea that embraces change. Community must then work to spread this idea rapidly. We (as a global society) can’t keep using plastic (and other petrochemicals) like we do. The earth stands to be further, irreversibly changed for the worst if we do. Right now, billions of dollars are flowing into these industries, and no one who is profiting from them expects or wants this to change anytime soon. But it must.
Yes, if we as environmentalists are to win this battle we must get a majority of citizens to acknowledge the catastrophic risks plastic pollution poses. Remember, plastics and oil are part of the same thing; and both also contribute to climate change and ocean acidification in addition to the general toxifying of our world. Our communities must become overwhelmingly willing to try embracing change—if only, at least, for a while. If only to just try, so that many years from now we can look back on the year 2019 and say, we did our best to avoid planet-wide catastrophe.
We must encourage each other to stop buying the single use. We need to encourage our local communities to embrace trying a few changes that make an impact. Store owners, for example, are a part of our community. Can they stop selling something of harm? Using less packaging? Incentivizing reusables over disposables?
In fact, there are opportunities to engage our community on the topic around, literally, every corner. Youth sports teams face choices between plastic bottles of water and reusable ones. Our offices can stop using plastic silverware in the lunchroom; washing a fork only takes about 30 seconds. We can sometimes actually bike or bus instead of driving there, and encourage our friends to do the same.
Every part of all of our communities touches plastics and other petrochemicals. It’s time to engage our neighbors—whoever they may be—with messages of environmental encouragement to do and be better. Baby steps are steps. And we need as many steps as we can get as quickly as possible.
As individuals, our most powerful tools to help the situation are our spirit and willingness to do what it takes to win. The other side is engaged in a meticulous, silent war to keep the status quo. They distribute Oil promoting coloring books to our elementary school children. They fund politicians, and subsequently policy. They sponsor our favorite sports teams, and make really compelling TV commercials that make us feel safe with them by our sides. They eloquently change arguments about toxicity into matters of tradition and legacy. We must see through it all; We must see to the core of the issue: Catastrophic environmental changes will happen if we do not change how we treat the planet. Change needs to happen, and happen as fast as possible!
The history of the Plastic Pollution Crisis is a history of public relations companies making us all feel ok with how things work and unwilling to question the costs our behavior imposes on the world. It is a history of getting most people to feel that their behavior is not that bad, or maybe not bad at all. It is a history of outright corruption and deceit. It is a history of convincing the people that plastic is safe and recycling works. The Plastics industry has been nothing but ruthless as it slowly encapsulated our beloved planet, but we must prevent total suffocation. We believe that a big part of our duty as environmentalists is to address the moderate citizen and help them understand why and how their behavior must change. Our Global Village must spread the words, ideas, and encouragement of change to our fellow villagers.