Plastic is covering the oceans, the ocean floor, land, natural ecosystems, and now studies show that microplastics are found in rain too. It’s everywhere and no one can escape it. We waste so many resources from wood to metal and textiles. In addition, it creates countless problems for us and the planet, and that’s why waste is such a big design flaw.
We are officially a throwaway society. It has become easier and cheaper to produce cheap items instead of looking after one and reusing it over and over again. We find it more convenient to buy plastic bottles instead of taking with us a reusable one (or at least for the majority of people do).
Nevertheless, it never used to be as bad as it is now. Since plastic, the problem became bigger and more global.
In any case, this design flaw of waste can be solved. It won’t happen overnight, but if everyone puts the effort in, consumers and companies alike, we will have a good chance at building a nearly perfect system and society. It’s certainly not impossible.
Why Is Waste A Design Flaw?
Every piece of plastic ever produced still exists and it will all outlive everyone on the planet. Whether it’s in the ocean or in a landfill, it won’t go away any time soon.
Truckloads of waste are dumped in the oceans and thrown in landfills minute. If you think about it, those piles of rubbish are just lost potential. It seems like useless rubbish to most people, but they are resources which could have been used in some way. Perhaps not by the company that created the waste, but there are plenty of creative people that are coming up with smart ways to reuse waste.
Here are just some sources of waste:
- During extraction of raw resources
- Discarding a product at the end of its lifecycle
- Throwing away broken items
- Food waste
- During manufacturing (eg scrap material)
- From the demolition of buildings
- Packaging waste
- Single-use items
Of course, the list is a lot longer. This is just to give you an idea of how waste is created everywhere. From the production of a product right up to when it’s discarded. But we don’t need to produce this much waste.
Why Is It So Bad?
We are now running out of space to put our rubbish, waste is destroying ecosystems, it’s killing wildlife, it’s releasing dangerous toxins, and is depleting finite materials. Once again, the list goes on. Did you know it affects our health too? Because of all the plastic in the ocean, we are now consuming microplastics when we eat seafood.
It won’t be easy for the world to become plastic-free as our world is now based on making waste. It has become the norm to throw away good products like phones and clothes to replace them with newer ones. And it is also normal to replace a broken item instead of trying to repair it first. Unfortunately, that’s the society we have created.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
The Plastic Problem
The problem with plastic is that it has reached such a massive scale that now it’s found nearly everywhere. We have become so addicted to plastic that it’s hard to stop using it. You can’t go the day without touching plastic simply because it makes the majority of products.
Unlike paper or wood, plastic is not a natural material and therefore cannot biodegrade. It can get smaller and smaller and eventually turn into microplastics, but it will stay on earth forever. That’s the biggest flaw when it comes to plastic.
When plastic was first invented it most likely seemed like an elegant and smart idea. But like many designs, it had an unforeseeable flaw. People thought its durability was amazing yet they didn’t think about the future consequences of this.
It became popular around the 1950s, and since then its popularity has only grown. Due to its qualities including durability, flexibility, and malleability, many companies started using it.
It’s safe to say that humans are addicted to plastic.
What Can We Do About It?
To every problem, there is a solution and this is no exception. We need to be creative and come up with innovative solutions.
Nothing is waste unless we throw it away. Perhaps it’s considered waste to one company but someone else you use it to produce something else. For example, fashion brands produce textile waste. It’s inevitable. But those scrap materials don’t have to go to landfill. They can be used to make different products or at least recycle them to produce new materials.
Nature doesn’t produce any waste. Everything is reused and recycled in a closed-loop. That’s the model we need to in our modern life. Nature has all the answers we need.
The Solution: A Zero-Waste Society
Now that you know that waste is a design flaw, you need to know what we can do to fix it. As you probably guessed, there isn’t one clear cut solution to this problem. It will be a combination of a mindset shift in our society, design change but the most important one will be moving to a circular economy.
If you think about it, single-use packaging is considered as waste but it took money and energy to produce them. So every time you or companies throw away something, not only are they throwing away resources, but they are also throwing away money.
01. Better Design
Right now everything is wrapped in cheap plastic and in most cases, single-use plastic.
But there are new innovations and new technology that could change the story of packaging. Did you know that there are companies working on edible packaging? It sounds bizarre but it’s true.
Designers must start designing with sustainability and the planet in mind. Creativity shouldn’t be at the expense of the environment. If anything, we can use that creativity to improve the state of the planet.
Designers should start thinking about these issues of waste right from the beginning. Designers are known for their problem-solving skills. This is just another problem they need to solve.
02. Choose Sustainable Materials
Choosing the right material is crucial.
First of all, all materials in the future must be biodegradable and compostable. This will ensure waste doesn’t remain in nature for hundreds of years. That means no more plastic. Humans invented plastic. I’m sure we can find an equally good material that is also better for the environment.
There has been a growing development in seaweed packaging for example.
But even using paper and cards from sustainably grown forests (FSC) is better as it can be recycled over and over and it’s biodegradable too.
03. Recycling & Upcycling
This can apply to anything. Start mending your clothes and repairing things in your house. And if you can’t, find someone that can. When we are done with something, the first thing that comes to mind, almost automatically, is to throw it in the black bin. How about we change that behavior so we start trying to keep what we have for as long as possible?
As well as repairing items, we could upcycle them and use them for something completely different. Recycling and upcycling are not things that can only be achieved on an individual level. Businesses and large companies also need to adopt this mindset. That’s when we will start seeing real change.
04. High Quality
If we started producing more high-quality products rather than cheap ones that don’t last more than a few uses, we would significantly reduce the amount of waste. The problem with the current system is that we see everything as disposable and replaceable.
In the olden days, people truly valued their possessions. They weren’t interested in buying cheap artifacts and clothes. Even though they had to pay a bit more to get good-quality pieces, they lasted for years and years. Each piece had a story behind it, and a very interesting story in fact, from 20 or 30 years ago. Sadly, this has become very rare.
05. Circular Design
Circular design is the idea of designing products or systems that don’t produce any waste. Ideally, all products could be reused, or the individual parts could be taken apart and used to remanufacture new products. The whole idea behind the circular economy is to fix the design flaw of waste. It’s about reusing everything we have instead of mining for more raw materials and cutting down entire forests.
The people who will make the biggest impact are packaging companies or basically any large company that produces a lot of (single-use) plastic/waste. If they change the way they operate, it will be a game-changer. Currently, the packaging is the biggest source of waste because it’s single-use and it can’t be reused.
Reducing what we consume and produce is the key. And perhaps the easiest thing we can do. Simply reducing how much we buy will reduce how much rubbish we produce as a result.
You don’t have to become a minimalist necessarily, just stop buying what you don’t need. A consumerist lifestyle is what most people are choosing as it’s what society is telling them to do but at the same time it’s not a good way to live. Excessive consumerism is the driver of so many problems which is why I recommend escaping it. It’s neither good for you or the planet.
Everyone is stuck in this cycle of throwing away stuff just to buy new stuff. If we didn’t have this lifestyle, I can say with near certainty, there wouldn’t nearly as much waste on the planet as there is now.
07. Use Technology
We have new technology that we didn’t have 50 years ago. Let’s not let that knowledge go to waste. Using technology smartly can make us more sustainable by producing innovative new materials or creating new systems like an efficient waste management system for households.
Humans are the most evolved species on planet earth. We are creative, intelligent, and above all adaptable. We have the capabilities to make this planet amazing. The only thing standing in our way is our greed and selfishness.
08. Supporting Local Businesses
I feel supporting local businesses is becoming more popular. Lately, more people are choosing to shop from small businesses that are doing good for the planet while avoiding big multibillion corporations that are just harming the planet.
Some people even argue that billionaires shouldn’t exist. In a sense, they have a point. It’s not possible to run a company on such a large scale without having any environmental impact. They use too much energy, resources, and exploitation.
On the other hand, businesses that run on a smaller scale tend to be more ethical and eco-friendly and actually care about their customers.
09. Reducing Food Waste
First of all, we should aim to produce less food waste. The world already wastes way too much food either during processing, transport, or by consumers. If no food went to waste, not only would be able to feed most of the world, we wouldn’t need to cut as many forests and destroy as many ecosystems to feed ourselves.
But not all food is edible for us. Banana peels and eggshells are just a couple of examples. Composting this is the best option. Right now, very few people are composting these. Either because they think it’s too much energy or because they don’t know it’s possible. It’s definitely something that needs fixing if we want to reduce our waste.
Nature doesn’t have this design flaw, it doesn’t create waste. We should copy it and do the same.
10. Buying Second Hand
Since there are already millions of products, clothes, and phones on the planet, why not buy existing ones (for cheaper). Why choose to fund the production of new things? Start thrifting.
Buying things second-hand doesn’t make them any worse. There are already people making money from selling second-hand items. Image a society built on the reuse of existing products. Keeping products in a closed-loop is key to a circular economy as mentioned above.
11. Move away from single-use
Another very important point. Single-use products and single-use plastic specifically is perhaps the biggest design flaw as it’s what is causing the majority of waste. Nothing should be designed and manufactured only to be used once.
Not only is this wasteful, but it’s also illogical. It doesn’t make financial sense either. It’s cheaper to keep using items as much as possible. It will be a challenge to achieve but removing single-use items from the shelves is a necessity.
Consumers, those who buy the products, need to become more aware of the problem. Does everyone know what happens to everything they throw into the bin? Probably not. Do they consider the environmental impact of throwing away electronic gadgets in the bin which could have been reuse? Probably not.
Knowledge is power as they say. Society can’t be ignorant to such a huge problem anymore. No one can solve a problem if they don’t even know that it exists in the first place.
Without plastic, the present would look very different. It’s one of the reasons we have advanced so much as a species. But enough is enough.
Recycling plastic and picking it up off the ground is not a long-term solution. The entire system needs to change.
We need to accept that waste is a design flaw. When people accept that then we can move forward and find a solution. It’s possible to design waste out of our lives. And when I mean waste, I mean things that we discard never to be used again.
It gives me hope to see driven people make the world a better place and who are trying to come up with solutions to current problems. One person or business cannot solve this waste flaw. But if more people and companies come together, we will stand a pretty good chance.
For this shift to a zero-waste society to happen, people need to be open-minded and open to new ideas. If no one changes their habits, the system won’t change.
Originally published at https://www.terramovement.com on December 13, 2020.