We live in a world of waste, a one-directional pathway of consumerism. Every year, the world creates 2.6 trillions pounds of garbage which all channels towards landfills, incinerators, and our oceans. Plastic in particular has become a burden to our society, a material which cannot decompose and whose lifecycle as a recyclable material is limited. Unfortunately, plastic has become the most ubiquitous consumer material, partly because it is the perfect manufacturing material, being both durable and limitlessly formable.
Everything is going to need to be redesigned. We cannot burn fossil fuels forever, and therefore we will not be able to make plastics forever. We will reach a breaking point in our society where our path towards the future will either lead to an apocalyptic future or the unshackling of our reliance on fossil fuels.
The stresses of population and pollution will catalyze this revolutionary redesign, and it will come from the East. The growing stresses and pollution in countries such as China will be too great. Their efforts must focus on the redesign of society. Their need it too great, and because of their influence over the world economy, these changes must happen here in order to move the rest of the world to follow. This is the most powerful that the redesign can happen.
Governments everywhere in the world will need to crack down more rigorously on companies with unsustainable practices. Consumers themselves desire this change. They want a culture of sustainability. They want the redesign to happen but they do not know how to begin.
The Newly Redesigned World
Regardless of whatever transformation in energy and material the world makes. Once we have achieved the unthinkable and released ourselves of our reliance on fossil fuels, the question arise of what to do with the tons of produced plastic in the world. Not only is it unable to going away or decompose, but it also is a detriment to environment health. Locations like the Pacific Garbage Patch will only have grown larger, destroying ecosystems without fully realized effects on our global society.
Designers will have an imperative role in society, not by what they make but by what they can imagine. It will become their role to facilitate the retrieval of plastics within our waste stream and to construct systems in which the remaining plastic never enters our garbage.
Plastic will become a tool, a means to creation. Its existence, its burden on our society, will be the ultimate test in our capacity to redesign our world due to its centrality in the world economy. Its excess after the world redesign will demand our creativity. It will demand that we pay attention to where our garbage goes. Tinkerers and tinkering culture will flourish with new ways of repurposing plastics. New consumer systems will create ways of recirculation plastic and other proceeding materials. Citizens will make an active effort to manage and reduce their waste creation.
Plastic will be the test material for a much larger change in society regarding waste. Recycling and responsible waste management will work at the local level rather than a regional level. Job creation in public works with increase in similar ways to that of the New Deal by creating ways in which to use our garbage to build up our communities, with great pieces of artwork, a rebuilt infrastructure and newly designed environments for community and sociability. The stigmas surrounding “dumpster diving” will disappear. Such activity will become imperative to the continued flourishing of society.
Living in the Redesigned World
Citizens of the redesigned world will require a greater creative capacity as well as an exceeding capacity for mindfulness. With whatever they cannot repurpose themselves, only then will community waste management receive their materials. The redesigned world will require active citizenship.
Jobs and systems circulating waste management will increase substantially. Engineers and designers will have to constantly create ways for repurposing material. Companies especially will enlist designers and engineers to imagine useful ways for repurposing their waste. A refocus on the household as the source of waste will empower the average person to make an active impact. With the stigmas of repurposing waste gone, all material will be seen as opportunity for new creation. There will exist cleaner streets because of those who have collected trash to repurpose and a larger culture of making will come into being so that in this way people will work together to tackle the issue of waste.
The impending breaking point in our society will come. There’s no doubt about it. Half of the challenge to creating a new world will dealing with having to manage the old one as it slowly weakens its grip on society. Concerning our world as it is, we have created a massive amount of stuff, much of which is nonrenewable and will not simply decompose and go away. Plastic is not a natural material. It has no role in our environment when it is discarded. This is an issue we will have to cope with beyond our current epoch.