in Conservation & Sustainability, Two Cents

A Plastic Crisis

As the modern convenient way of life was brought to us by the sophisticated developed world, so was plastics. This durable material with a promise of convenience is omnipresent in all society: our supermarkets and refrigerators are filled with single-use plastic packaging. Tribal communities in the most remote fishing villages where stories of how older generations fished with spider web lines now even have access to cheap and ever-enduring nylon. Plastics now lie in the deepest oceans and carry on in forms of big floating garbage patches or microscopic molecules within living beings from plankton, fish, to the bloodstreams of us, human.

Having traveled in lots of underdeveloped countries in South East Asia, I knew very well of the smell of toxic smoke coming out of a burning pile of plastic by the roadside. You can’t really blame the locals. For centuries people were used to getting rid of their (organic) waste by a simple toss to the bush, where everything is returned back to earth. But cheap fast moving consumer goods can now be easily obtained even at local mom-and-pop shops, where habitats are un-equipped with the awareness and ability to properly deal with the leftover packaging these products come in.

In a bigger sense, humans invented and populated an unleashed demon which they don’t know how to tame. I often think the plastic crisis will end up to be the very downfall of our species.

The easy solution – burning – could have the potential to be the “cleanest” way to dispose of large amounts of waste – through high tech incineration. We might all know its shining example in Sweden:

This is a very insightful investigation into one of the best examples in the world of waste processing. In Singapore where I live, it is also one of the most effective ways to get rid of garbage. In a cold climate country like Sweden, incinerators can be a very efficient solution compared to a lot of countries who just dump their waste into the ocean and burn dirty coal for winter heating. It seems like a win-win answer to a combination of problems.

But what this video found out eventually, is that these incineration plants come quite expensive and is inefficient at least half of the year. At its core is a “burning question” and it arrived at a thought-provoking answer I very much agree with: shouldn’t we put our major resources and investments into recycling and reducing waste at its source?

An example of recycling’s future we could look deeper into:

Recycling is the medicine we can take for our early on-set chronic disease of plastic pollution that treats only the symptoms. To tackle the cause of the disease and stop it from its origin, a radical lifestyle change – reducing waste is the only solution and happens to be something everyone can participate.

In Switzerland, I came across a very good example. Swiss household garbage is collected in special disposal bags which residents acquire by paying a substantial fee. Offenders who don’t use these bags or doesn’t follow the rules won’t get their garbage picked up and may result in getting fined. This is the only way to throw away garbage and it comes at a price (like a garbage tax based on volume). This resulted in every single person starts to put their effort and awareness into avoiding waste in the first place. The recycling rate in Switzerland ended up high and organic waste was mostly composted. For those who don’t bother, pay up for the eventual cost of disposal/recycling.

While I should say Bravo to policies like this, there is a long way to go for the rest of the world. I definitely believe it is the governments’ responsibility to ban single-use plastics, which could open up new markets and sparkle new inventions and even brand new industries to fuel the economy.

Western consumerism and mass consumption for fueling the ever-growing economy is done by raping nature, and is sadly now a standard model for the whole humanity and tHis collective disaster has resulted in a global ecological collapse. Nature doesn’t have boarders, so is our own waste and pollution that now chokes the entire earth. Plastics, apart from greenhouse gasses and other toxic waste, is a major end product that will stay around for hundreds and thousands of years. Those who act upon it will be remembered by our children’s children.

In an ideal world in my mind, a punitive tax should be created based on both consumption and waste. People should be taxed for existing on this earth to simply put, because all resources on our planet – land, water, clean air, and clear blue sky, is valuable.