Friday, July 6, 2012
We found a two-foot section of a plastic 2x6 board on the beach, a cut-off scrap, most likely the end of a larger piece of decking. How to parse that one? This washed-up plastic board, made from trashed plastic, will never be anything other than plastic pollution once its usefulness has expired. Once the mix of all kinds of plastic is made into a board, it will never be another something—only more landfill, more toxins leaching out to the sea. And, if I have to replace my old redwood deck...? What will I do? I sure don’t want to cut more trees—oh boy livin' large in the age of trash.
Plastic is seldom recycled. It is either down-cycled or up-cycled. Confused? Up-cycling means making something more useful from trash like making fleece clothes from PET bottles. Down-cycling converts waste into something useful but less functional, like shampoo bottles into shipping pallets, into boards like this 2x6. Once the down-up has happened that’s the end of the line— a slight detour in a straight line toward the trash. No chasing arrows.
Recycling means used over again for a similar purpose—an aluminum can becomes an aluminum can; a glass bottle becomes a glass bottle.
Feeling "green washed?" Just when you were feeling so virtuous tossing that plastic water bottle in the proper bin, you find out that the container industry has been hard at it putting the onus on the consumer. For years, instead of taking responsibility at the source, billions of bottles are spewing out and into the waste stream. The container industry has resisted putting a return tax, or bottle deposits and has actively moved to defeat bill after bill. Remember “No Deposit, No Return?”
The true costs of plastic are never fig'ered into the equation. But what happens next? Maybe the Cradle-to-Cradle idea? This is the most sustainable concept yet devised—make stuff in closed loops, feeding the natural cycle and the techno cycle. The natural cycle is about composting, converting "waste" to food or soil. The techno cycle is about true recycling—that a can becomes a can again. Creating plastic that can have several lives as the same thing. The sole of a flip-flop becomes a new sole. And yet, picking up a four pound 2x6 piece of plastic and carrying it home feels like a tiny virtue. And telling about it, feels like a breath of sanity.