Perhaps like no other material, plastic has been made entirely for the use and benefit of humans. Of no use to other creatures, large or small, plastic has been piling up, clogging ecological cycles, polluting and contaminating. The consequences of our last century of human-centered plastic play, is now the focus of our great consternation and condemnation. While in comparison to species extinction, ocean acidification, and rainforest destruction, plastic pollution may not be the most dire of ecological crises, as we look out upon littered beaches, chocked rivers and whales beached with bellies full of our bags, it certainly causes us the most shame.
However, an awakening has begun.
Around the world we’re realizing where our plastic, oh-so carefully segregated and recycled, is actually ending up. Investigative journalism and scientific study has made the fate of plastic clear. No matter how well we recycle, landfill or incinerate— plastic’s particles and chemicals end up loose in the biosphere. No matter how much we reduce or reuse— plastic production rises unabated. Our observation of the ensuing pollution has evoked a generational despair. It has led to a harsh judgment of both ourselves and of plastic as innately flawed and ecological damaging.
However, these judgments are entirely misplaced.
While we’re now seeing clearly where our plastic ends, this is only half the story. Until now, we haven’t truly grasped where plastic begins– both physically and philosophically. Our century-long story of plastic as human-made and managed has been woefully short-sighted.
To the extent we haven’t incorporated the full history of plastic into our understanding of it, we have been blind to some startling insights.
While our slumber has been stirred by observing plastic’s destiny, our awakening to its ancient origins is key to the resolution of plastic's pollution— and, incidentally, of all our other ecological crises. As we shall see in the chapters ahead, our modern ecological issues share deeply buried roots which plastic is uniquely poised to uniquely illuminate.
In fact, far from being the problematic waste that we once thought it to be, our used-plastic contains an ecological value that our modern society has completely overlooked.
But to grasp the true value of plastic and the green way forward to claiming it, we must first transcend our judgments and condemnations of plastic— and of ourselves.
To do so we must recall that not all civilizations put the needs and benefit of humans first and foremost. To do so we must go back and look at how plastic arrived into our hands in the first place.
Let's start from the very beginning.
NEXT: Chapter 2 | Plastic's Stellar Story
PREVIOUS: Chapter 1 | Imagine
WHAT IS THE TRACTATUS AYYEW? The Story