Following on from my last post about the word
‘single-use’ becoming the word of the year, and the connotations that
single-use plastics are bad plastics I wanted to explore the relationship
people have with the material. A lot of people associate plastics with
waste, pollution, and litter. We see the
material and we name it as the bad guy. However,
to take the personification of the material a step further, when it was born it
didn’t see its future as floating in the seas for evermore or clogging up the
drains. It wanted to be something useful, something that would last; it wanted
to do something good and more often than not, it does do good – we just don’t
notice it when it is doing its job well (Meikle, 1997, p. xiii). When the material is being put to a job
incorrectly or it is in the wrong place, it is us, human beings, who must take
responsibility not the material.
We all need to take responsibility for the products
that we design, make, and use, as well as the way we dispose of them. As designers and makers we need to think
carefully about the materials we select.
What do we want them to do, and how long do we need the product to last.
What can be done with the product when it comes to the end of its useful life?
We need companies and governments to take more
responsibility for the waste that is generated.
For example: Pret a Manger in Brighton have started to trial a scheme
offering cash-back for the return of plastic bottles (BBC News, 2018), the
supermarket Tesco are trialling a similar scheme (Tesco PLC, 2018).
We need designers and manufacturers to see the
value of the materials they use and to make appropriate use of such valuable
As consumers, we need to make informed choices about what we buy.
We assume that natural materials are the best choice environmentally but
that is not necessarily the case. Unbleached,
undyed cotton uses large quantities of hazardous chemicals and high levels of
water during its production (Burall, 1991, p. 39).
We need to understand that biodegradable products
aren’t always the best option either and can encourage littering. These materials need special environmental
conditions to break down; biodegradable doesn’t mean we are free to dump it in
We need to change people’s behaviour when it comes
to waste – too many people are littering and have the attitude that rubbish is
‘not my problem’, ‘someone else will clean it up’.
The UK government needs to take responsibility for the
country’s recycling. Up until recently much of the UK’s recycling was sent to
China. Since 2012, the UK has exported
2.7 million tonnes of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong, which is two-thirds
of the UK’s plastic waste exports. But
as of January this 2018, China has put a ban on plastics imports (Laville, 2017). The UK needs recycling plants in this country
and we need the government to see the value of the material they have been
sending out to China – we should keep that economic value in this country.
We cannot go on blaming the material, other people,
other organisations for the environmental situation in which we find
ourselves. We need to think about why we
use the materials and products that we do, as well as those that we choose to
avoid asking ourselves if we are seeing the bigger picture. We also need to take home our rubbish when we
are out and about, recycle what we can, contact local and national authorities
to demand improvements to recycling schemes, pick up the litter that we see,
and take responsibility.
Louise Dennis (Assistant Curator)
BBC News, 2018. Pret A Manger to trial plastic
bottle cash-back scheme in Brighton [WWW Document]. URL
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-43214000 (accessed 3.5.18).
Burall, P., 1991. Green Design. The Design
Laville, S., 2017. Chinese ban on plastic
waste imports could see UK pollution rise | Environment | The Guardian [WWW
Document]. Guard. Online. URL https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/07/chinese-ban-on-plastic-waste-imports-could-see-uk-pollution-rise
Meikle, J.L., 1997. American Plastic: A
Cultural History. Rutger University Press, New Brunswick & London.
Tesco PLC, 2018. Tesco trials money back on
returned plastic bottles, and calls for a national approach to recycling [WWW
Document]. URL https://www.tescoplc.com/news/news-releases/2018/tesco-trials-money-back-on-returned-plastic-bottles-and-calls-for-a-national-approach-to-recycling/