There is a great deal of issues going on in the world today. From economic instability to political unrest, violent uprisings to climate change. With the tumultuous times, it is imperative that we establish a will to understand and change for the betterment of the systems in which we live. These systems range from our individual relationships we have with ourselves and others, up to the sociopolitical structures that shape the currents for how we function together.
However, there is arguably one system that supersedes all others: the natural environment. Every product, every mode of transportation, every electronic interaction, every meal and so on is directly impacted by and directly impacts the environment on some scale. With everything we do, there is some form of environmental relation. Multiply the singular impact of one form of relation with the amount of people involved, and man-oh-man does it build up.
Take the impact of plastic for example. We should all be aware of the massive “plastic soup” drifting around our oceans. In some studies it is said that the amount of marine debris floating around in the oceans is approximately 80% plastic (2013). Here are some facts from PlaticOceans website (2010): According to water filtration company Brita, Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year. Packaging is the largest end use market segment accounting for just over 40% of total plastic usage (Plastics Europe). Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute. A plastic bag has an average “working life” of 15 minutes. Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century. Plastic accounts for around 10% of the total waste we generate.
Alright, so plastic is everywhere breaking apart and floating in the vortexes of our oceans, choking fish out, that whole bit; but also realize the way in which we grow, prepare and consume our food. If there is plastic involved, you bet your microwaveable Tupperware and Poland Spring water bottle those microscopic plastic particles are going right into you, and it’s not something you can just pee out like surplus vitamin C. Here are some more tasty facts from different studies collected by PlasticOceans: The presence of plastic in our bodies is relatable to the following health conditions: Cancer, Diabetes, Low sperm count, Altered immune systems, Genital defects, Endocrine disruptors, Rheumatoid arthritis, Endometriosis, Low birth weights, Developmental problems in children, etc.
Limiting our use of something like plastic can definitely benefit ourselves and the systems in which we live; however, such a task is not nearly as simple as it seems. If we stop using plastic for the great many things we use it for, what do we use to replace it. Instead of taking groceries home in plastic, why not paper? Paper is biodegradable, brown looking, and holds up alright. But it requires trees, and land, and chemicals, and machines. In essence, everything, in some sort of form or another, stems from the environment, where it will also eventually return. Obviously, plastic usage is not the only thing we need to focus on as we approach an understanding to the preservation of our natural environment, but it is certainly something to consider.
We are given the choice to decide on limiting our catastrophic impact on the planet’s ability to process its resources naturally in the physical time it takes to do so. Patience, compassion, understanding, and innovation are key in effectively commanding the vessel to positive change. A great example of such kindred spirit to this vessel motif is Leyla Acaroglu, “passionate sustainability provocateur, design strategist and leading proponent of systemic life cycle based sustainability” (2014). If y’all don’t know already, I am really into TED Talks, and this is where I found out about Leyla Acaroglu.
So get chattin’ on what we can do to design, innovate, advocate, research, and put into action for the creation of a greener tomorrow. And may I please propose a question: Are you a product of your environment, or is the environment a product of you?
Sources: Ecoinnovators.com, 2014; Plasticoceans.net, 2010; Sailorsforthesea.com, 2013.