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In honor of the Earth Day theme – Planet vs. Plastics, is calling for a 60% reduction in plastics by 2040.  While this is a valiant effort to improve the life of both planet and people, it seems there should be a discussion of what this actually means and how to approach this undertaking in the context of building permanent culture.

Earth Day 2024 Planet vs Plastics - Turtle on beach litter

While, has done a good job of positioning the issue as something more expansive than plastic straws, water bottles, and other components of single use plastics, if we are going to create truly effective change, we will need to explore how we got here in the first place and consider what we are going to use in the absence of plastics.

How did we get to this place of ubiquitous plastics?  Let’s face it, plastics have been a valuable material and played a significant role in the formation of the society we live in today.  It has been insurmountable in food preservation, and as an impermeable, lightweight, tough material, and due to its low price point, it has improved the quality of life for people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

This begs the question, what does it mean to call for a 60% reduction in plastics?  Does it mean that we are going to give up all the things that have plastic in them, such as:

  • Eyeglasses?

  • Phones?

  • Cars?

  • Television, computers, and printers?

  • The packaging that incorporates your food as well as take-out containers?

  • Toothbrushes, dental floss and other hygiene products?

  • Microwaves and other kitchen appliances and containers?

  • Power tools?

  • Plumbing and electrical materials?

  • Pens, paper clips and other office supplies?

  • Clothing and shoes?

How are we going to maintain our quality of life in the absence of plastics, or what are we willing to give up as a quality-of-life reduction in its absence?

Rabbi Moshe Waldoks of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, Massachusetts says that when facing the desire to transition to something new, that transition cannot occur if you are only being pushed from where you are.  You must also have something pulling you to where you are trying to go.  Therefore, while resisting the continued use of plastics in our society is an important step, we must also be contemplating what will fill that void if we are going to create any sort of meaningful change or permanent culture.

All raw materials either come out of the earth or are grown.  Those that come out of the earth are finite and we will eventually run out of them and/or create more irreputable harm trying to obtain them.  Those materials that are grown can become part of a regenerative agriculture system and are therefore infinite as, if the system is managed effectively, there will always be more on the horizon.

As we work towards reducing our use of plastics, we cannot forget to consider the follow up question: What will take its place?