Plastic Philosophy

January 28, 2011

What would life be like without plastic? Plastic sandwich bags, plastic wrap, plastic storage containers. I don’t know why, but I often think about this.

I read another article today regarding how plastic waste hits poor countries hardest. Not surprising. I can’t find the link for the report I read this morning, but here’s a start: http://www.waste-management-world.com/index/display/article-display/8267238380/articles/waste-management-world/volume-11/issue-2/features/waste-management_2030.html

Plastics have made life incredibly better for us. Their use in medicine and industry, as well as common household products – they’re ubiquitous. Living in Hong Kong I could sometimes see shards of pottery in the rivers. Archaeology loves pottery. Amphorae in shipwrecks or buried sites, tracing origins of the clay, the contents, the artistic qualities are an incredible window onto the trade and culture of the past.

What does plastic say? Certainly it reveals global trade. It tells of our understanding of chemistry, production, habits of living. It’s not personal, though. I see no artistic merit in the plastic bags I was washing this morning. But I would find life very difficult without it.

Post-apocalyptic novels like to have their characters treasuring, or puzzling over the jetsam of our times. As I use plastic, teflon, silicon in domestic tasks, I often speculate how I’d feel if I were part of a primitive culture, and discovered such a thing. What would I think of it? Would I use it, set it up as an idol?

That reminds me of the movie ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’ and the coke bottle.

Once again, I am reminded how even my ‘original’ ideas are shared by thousands and thousands. I rather like that thought. It also makes me even more in awe of a truly original idea pulled out of the Adjacent Possibles.

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3 Responses to “Plastic Philosophy”

  1. rainywoods Says:

    Oh, plastic! So much to say about it. One thing to take into account is that we can make plastic-like substances from plants now. So they biodegrade in your compost, rather than pollute the planet to the end of time. I can’t say how much of our current petroleum plastic could be replaced with new biodegradable plastics, but we do seem to be able to develop some cool stuff when there’s a market for it.

    • mhilm Says:

      I really like your site – easy links to sustainably-packaged items. Stahlbush Farms are local for me,and I use their foods when my self-picked supplies run out (just ran out of blueberries today, alas!) It’s vital that we learn to think in terms of consequences rather than convenience, and sites like yours make the switch easier. Thanks!

      • rainywoods Says:

        Thanks for checking out my site. It’s in its infancy. It’s surprisingly difficult to find things to add! One thing that’s occurring to me is if we are going to order things online because our local stores don’t carry them, then we need the seller to package without plastic. No point ordering something because it doesn’t have plastic packaging if the seller packs it in a box with plastic. And let’s not even start on plastic packaging tape! We have a ways to go on this, that’s for sure.


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