What Do We Do About Plastic?

We have a plastic problem. Every day, nearly a million tons of plastic waste are produced. It has been found at the bottom of ocean trenches. The beaches of island nations are covered with bottles washing up from the tides. Animals in the wild have pieces of plastic in their intestinal tract.

The Scope of the Problem

The problem is that plastic is cheap to produce, and it can be molded in numerous helpful shapes. It seems like just about everything contains some plastic. We use plastic wrap to indicate something is new and pristine. We use bottles for water and other beverages. Sometimes it’s even woven into our clothes!

The cost, however, only includes the cost of production and not of disposal. The company that bottles water doesn’t have to worry about what happens after the water is consumed. That cost, whether the bottle is thrown on the ground, placed in a trash receptacle, or enters the recycling stream, is born by the community.

Unfortunately, in each of those cases the eventual outcome is not good.

In nature, a plastic bottle won’t decay for hundreds of years. If plants don’t try to grow around it, it might end up washed into the ocean, carried by currents, and end up on a beach somewhere, poisoning fish or wildlife, or simply on the ocean floor.

Likewise, a plastic bottle thrown in a trash can most likely ends up in a landfill. There it will sit for hundreds of years.

But what about recycling? Only 9% of plastic is recycled, but at least that doesn’t end up in the waste stream and can be repurposed or reused. Most recycled plastic, however, is sent to poor countries by boat. These countries don’t have the ability or resources to recycle the huge amount of waste that is being produced, and so often it merely ends up in a landfill in another country after being shipped around the world. Recycling may make us feel good, but it does little to actually address the problem.

What can be done?

Any potential solution needs to address two different areas.

The first is to reduce the amount of new plastic that is being produced. For example, legislators in Canada are proposing banning single-use plastic products. It is not clear how quickly proposals like this can be implemented, or how widely they will be accepted. Consumers don’t seem to be aware of, or don’t care about, this issue in great numbers. Without public sentiment driving corporate behavior, it is not clear if it will happen at all.

Second, we also need to do something with all the plastic products that already exist. Some companies, like 4Ocean, are making an effort to remove plastic waste from our waterways. They fund their operation by selling bracelets made from recovered items. Fundamentally, however, companies like this merely move plastic from one place to another.

Some plastic-eating bacteria have already been found in nature, but decomposition is still a slow process. Evolution will eventually work to fill this ecological niche, but it will take a long time for this to happen.

How do you use plastic in your daily life? How difficult would it be to remove plastic items from your household? Can you imagine this happening? Lastly, how could we get to that point?

What do we do about plastic?

Related questions: What role does technology play in your life? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? How are you making the world a better place? What do you do that you shouldn’t?

 

Does Nature Have Rights?

We all want a prosperous future, and we have rights to help us achieve that. We also want a sustainable planet. Are these two desires incompatible?

Human Rights

The issue of the rights that we have, as human beings, is one of great importance. In the founding documents of the United States, for example. mention is made to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights lays out various human rights like free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to bear arms, and several others.

Additionally, there are arguments over what other human rights should be. Should health care be a right? Does every person have the right to a job? A home?

Importance of Nature

From an ecological standpoint, we know that nature is very important. The vast array of life fits together in a great pattern. Each species has a niche, or a role, to play in making the world work properly. If you upset that delicate balance, it can have catastrophic impacts on all living things.

We humans are in the process of disturbing that balance. Through growing numbers, humans are crowing out other animals. We are clearing forest in order to grow crops for food or to support animal farming. Many species are endangered, and several have already gone extinct.

Humans and Nature

Tying these two ideas together, do we as humans have a right to have access to nature? Studies show that humans benefit from time in a natural setting. Time away from cities, and artificial noise, calms the nerves and leads to a more positive outlook on life. Should we all haveĀ  access to a place we can go to escape urban life? To forget, if only for a little while, the hustle and bustle of modern life?

Moreover, does nature itself have a right to exist? Should there be areas set aside that will not be used for human development? Not used for further cities, or for farming or other human-related activities?

There are several examples of the grandeur of nature that have been set aside as national parks or forests. These include the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, and many others. But beyond these natural wonders, should there be some land that exists to maintain biodiversity, and as a refuge for plants and animals, and the ecosystem in general?

Or is it the case that any parcel of land exists only for humans to use as necessary? If space or natural resources become scarce enough, can any and every place be used? Are the needs of humans more important than the needs of any other species on the planet?

Does nature have rights? Or are rights only reserved for humans?

Related questions: How can we maintain wonder? What is your retreat from the world? How can we appreciate life more? What is keeping us from sustaining the planet?

What Is Beauty?

There are many things that can be considered beautiful. For example, you might consider a painting a thing of great beauty. A particular song, a pair of shoes, a deer in the woods, an elegant theorem — all might be considered beautiful.

But what exactly does that mean?

Studies have been done where people rate the attractiveness of faces shown to them. As it turns out, people tend to prefer a face that is more symmetrical. Why? The presumption is that symmetry denotes health, which means a good candidate for successful mating. What we find beautiful is encoded in our genes as an evolutionary strategy.

Or is it? It seems that notions of beauty change over time. In the middle ages, women as depicted in paintings tended to be larger than the wafer-thin models that stride the catwalks.

Are we simply programmed by our society as to what constitutes beauty? The people we see in magazines and on television… are they in our media because they are beautiful, or do we consider them to be beautiful because they are in our media?

Similarly, we can consider the art world. Imagine a particular painting is prominently displayed in a museum, or is sold for a large sum of money, or is presented in an art history class. Might we not start to assume it has great beauty?

Some people describe ideas as being beautiful. But what does beauty mean in that case? Does it simply mean that it is useful? Some might describe a theory that explains a complicated idea in a few short words or equations as elegant. Is “beauty” in this case just a synonym for “simple”? And do we mean the same thing when talking about art, or ideas, or faces?

What is beauty?

Related questions: Why do we like what we like? How much of our thoughts are our own? How important is the artist to art?