Plastic Miracle…

Plastic, one of the most miraculous  products made by humans…. from the fossils of our ancestors; compressed slowly over time; processed by nature and accrued… It’s only right that we take care to ensure they are not scattered without care.

Here in Bali, everything is seen as “sacred” in it’s own way, though this also means plastics aren’t ordinarily differentiated from organic waste which returns to nature via composting or fire… Leftovers from daily prayer offerings are regularly burned after being swept up alongside road drains and from there easily wash away with the next rain to the ocean…  compounded with the recent massive enlargement of road drains here in Bali, effectively making a trash super-highway to the ocean, is not good news…

We must intrinsically become aware of Plastic’s ill-effects and the impacts it will have on our future generations… perhaps through cultural mythology we can make a tale to re-steer our relationship with plastic.

Did you know that the plastic bag was made to replace the paper bag?  The first plastic bag made was designed to last for years and save trees from being cut down… great invention… until that idea got exploited into these single use plastic bags we know today resulting in huge mounds of plastic rubbish clogging our waterways, creating huge landfills and contaminating our soils and aquatic environments with synthetic estrogens which cause feminisation of amphibian species – resulting in lower sperm count in males, amongst other things. Potential long-term health-effects of storing food (especially hot liquids) in plastic aside, Plastic is indeed THE modern miracle… with its amazing ability to provide a waterproof membrane  has revolutionised  of portability and storage of ‘everyday’ products and enabled modernity as we know it to develop (I don’t know many houses in the ‘west’ which don’t have a plastic membrane in the roof…)

Here in Asia, single use plastic has enabled extraordinarily efficient service societies to develop (and which meet the consumer needs of capitalistic ‘western’ societies…) Small ultra-thin single-use and usually small plastic bag/sachets create a systematic method of efficient food-packaging and mobility which means less people have to use fossil fuels to power a vehicle to travel to buy foodstuffs at the local level (in itself saving huge amounts of CO2 and fossil fuel consumption) as you only have to walk 20m or so from most houses in an urban or sub-urban environment to come across someone selling a big batch of soup, porridge, vegetables, meat, noodles, fruit, snacks, spices or salt/sugar on a small food-stand. The use is effiecient and economical… but the proper disposal or lack thereof is the problem. And before you bag plastic out, it’s important to consider how our ‘western’ society, quality of life and privilege rests on the backs of the labour forces powered by single-use plastic:

We rely on Asian societies to produce all the stuff we buy and take for granted these days… and no longer produce ourselves… And when you compare the energy use (in terms of volume and fuel-efficiency mining-derived and extrapolated fossil fuels) of ‘asian’ societies with ‘western’ societies’ need to power air-con in huge shopping centres and the amount of kilometres required to drive/transport, storage and refrigerate and package supposedly eco-friendly products… (aside from micro-plastic fibre – containing “ecobags” and daily staff transport emissions) …a few fleecing plakki bags are hardly comparable (in my opinion) …though much more visible in terms of that the lack of their efficient/acceptable disposal…

While our attention is focused on single-use plastic and blaming the ‘little guy’ for the state of our environment and ecological crisis, the real issue of Who are the Real energy USERS and carbon emitters and polluters – is effectively being dismissed… We are conveniently distracted from questioning our own lifestyle habits as the effects are less immediately-visible and we still take for granted the fact that we can get in our car, drive to the supermarket and that food and other items will be there – wrapped in denser plastic or tetra-pack/heavier packaging or “eco-material” with 80% or greater energy-demand in getting to the point-of-sale than in Asian societies… The goods having been transported, stored and ready for us, and also consumed in waaaaaaaaay more quantity and much more wastage than in an Asian society…..

Yes, misuse of plastics results in a giant mar on local and ocean environments when it gets washed downstream… However, banning single-use plastic needs to be reconsidered and instead I believe we need to develop methods to ensure that single-use plastics AREN’T thoughtlessly discarded… Australia managed to clean up it’s act in the 80’s (used to be litter everywhere along our highways) so let’s not underestimate what people can do to change their habits in plastic disposal – if something can incentivise this change it’s even better 🙂 And in the meantime, Go help a farmer, save some soil and help build the villages of the future ❤

I’m personally a fan of ecobricks being a way to prevent single-use light plastic (plastk daun) from ending up in our natural environments and waterways (and ultimately our marine and coastal environments…) and they require zero capital to create.  Many plastics can be recycled… however, the majority of thin single-use plastics can’t be recycled so well… and the stockpile of the stuff is so large – it would take years to stuff them into ecobricks…. so what’s the/an alternative???

Just after writing this, I came across By Fusion ( which is a game-changer when it comes to gathering up the otherwise unrecycleable plastic trash and making it into a building material. There’s also pyrolysis process able to extract oil from plastic with little to no emissions (except power/gas use) and in Bali, Get Plastic have been refining small-scale machines which could be utilised at the local village scale to collect and repurpose plastic waste.

I believe that when people see that plastic has a value, it won’t be thrown away… and if people come to see it in a mythological way for what it is (thousands of years of dead bodies) their attitude and behaviour towards it could also change.

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