That bit of wisdom was offered as investment advice in 1967’s The Graduate. Plastics were the future then, and almost 50 years later, plastics are still the future, albeit for different reasons. For example, nearly all seabirds will be eating plastic by 2050 according to a recent study. There’s a lot of plastic debris floating in the oceans, most of it in tiny pieces. Birds (and fish and other marine life) inadvertently eat it to their detriment; the negative consequences can be immediate or cumulative. Eventually, that plastic can even wind up impacting our food supply since we eat the animals that are eating plastic.
Fortunately, this situation is widely acknowledged and efforts are already underway to reduce the production of new plastic waste and to clean up what’s already there. Also in the news this week is the completion of a project to survey and map plastic debris in the oceans, so that cleanup efforts can target resources where they can do the most good. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t individually reduce our plastic consumption and waste, recycle as much as possible, and dispose of the rest responsibly. It does mean the problem is tractable, progress is possible, and we should press on towards a future with less plastic.
Interestingly, what makes plastic so attractive is also what makes it so troublesome — it’s very durable, at least chemically. It doesn’t readily break down via the chemistry that occurs naturally around us; that means it won’t rot, but that also means… it won’t rot. The desire to create and possess durable goods is understandable, and one the Bible acknowledges and even affirms to an extent. Yet maybe there is also a kind of grace in building things which won’t last. At least that way, if there are unforeseen negative consequences, they won’t continue indefinitely. We shouldn’t make more disposable items to accumulate in landfills, but we should consider materials which can be reused or remade, either by us or our microbial helpers (who are also chipping in on the plastic). As the Vision said: “a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”
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