By 2050 – the amount of plastics in the ocean could outweigh fish.
-Dr. Andrew Dent
Welcome to the inaugural edition of ‘Weather Report’ from Rainlight Studio, a series of conversations driven by a desire to understand the world around us through the lens of design.
Hosted by Yorgo Lykouria, Rainlight’s Founder and Creative Director, we have invited inspirational thinkers to discuss what is on their mind right now, identifying issues and talking about the importance of design’s role in solving these challenges.
We kick off on Earth Day 2021 with Dr. Andrew Dent, Executive Vice President, Research at Material ConneXion, Chief Material Scientist at SANDOW. A leading expert on sustainable materials, he plays an important part in creating a new generation of more sustainable products.
Inevitably the subject of plastic, a material that has been largely demonised in the mainstream media as a major contributor to the pollution of our land and oceans, takes centre stage. There are so many different layers to the plastic debate. Part of the problem is a lack of common understanding on where the problems and solutions intersect. And this is where we need a new mindset to deal with the task in hand. In this conversation we uncover the idea that we don’t have a plastic problem, the real challenge is that of waste.
Modern society has been built around convenience. It is the epitome of our existence. The by-product of a package-driven society is something we term ‘waste’, when in fact, it could be considered a resource we could redirect and reuse. Recycled plastic typically degenerates, requiring an additional 10% to 30% virgin material in order to ensure the material performs as it should. Using mechanical means, reuse of these resources can only take place 2-4 times before the material diminishes beyond a useable level.
Innovations such as depolymerization – chemical recycling – as opposed to chopping up plastic post-consumer articles returns the plastic to its original state.
The greater concern is the impact that microplastics can have on the environment. These particles are found everywhere from the sea to the peaks of the Himalayas. These are created by industry when correct protocols are not followed, and from plastic degradation disposed in landfill or the sea. Manufacturers have to deal with the waste involved in the stages of production far more responsibly and that’s where increased standards can ensure levels of quality and efficiency in manufacturing that require a third party audit.
Then there’s the idea of bioplastics, derived from plants rather than petroleum products. These reduce our reliance upon virgin plastics. Even then, there is the problem that when bioplastics do end up in the ocean and begin to decay it will raise the acidity levels of the oceans. It is a common misconception that something that biodegrades is better for the environment. What this means is that micro particles leave the source material and enter the ecosystem. Introducing any biodegradable plastic into any new ecosystem, is going to change the chemistry of its environment.
The factor that all of this hinges on is the willingness of humans to substitute convenience for consciousness, consideration and care.