Innovation in a Plastic World
Updated: Aug 30
Hope Is Not Yet Lost
The magnitude of plastic pollution can seem daunting, but don’t give up! People across the globe are determined to create beautiful, useful things out of plastic waste. This may not stop plastic pollution, but it’s key in turning the tide. Now that you’re equipped with info from parts 1 and 2, stories of creators and communities all over the world can inspire you to get started yourself!
Municipalities in many countries are finding ways to reduce their own plastic waste and impact on the environment, through quick thinking and efficient methods.
Kwinana, Australia has developed a relatively cheap and safe system to keep plastic and other garbage out of waterways, by attaching netting to the ends of drain pipes. These work by collecting any waste in the stream inside the net, letting the water filter through and come out the other side waste-free. They’re also relatively safe— after multiple cleanings no animal has been found trapped in them thus far.
Some cities in Canada and other countries have implemented programs where users must pay for extra garbage disposal services. For example, if you have an extra bag of trash that won’t fit in your can, you must pay an extra fee to have it collected. This prompts residents to think through their consumption and disposal of goods and prevents them from buying more than they need to!
Plastic straws, grocery bags and disposable cutlery have all been banned or regulated in states like California. The use of these plastics is usually unnecessary and plenty of alternatives exist, so there isn’t really a reason to use them so sparingly. If other places follow suit, this could significantly reduce plastic pollution around the world. Countries like India are also banning plastics deemed unnecessary, like sticks for flags, balloons, and candy. India has already implemented a ban on certain plastic bags as well.
Bottled water bans are also in effect in places like San Francisco, California, and Bundanoon, Australia, since bottled beverage manufacturers like Nestle and Coca-Cola are some of the largest polluters on the planet. This prompts residents to use reusable water bottles instead, which are not only better for the environment but overall much more cost-effective as well.
That isn’t to say that these policies are perfect, though, as many of them raise accessibility worries. Trash fees may disproportionately affect lower-income people, for example, and a total ban on plastic straws is problematic for some disabled folks, so take each of these with a grain of salt!
Zero-Waste and Minimalism Movements
You may have heard of the awe-inducing efforts of Kathryn Kellogg, a woman who set out to completely eliminate waste from her life in the past few years. She blew the collective internet’s mind when she was able to keep two year’s worth of her trash in only a run-of-the-mill mason jar. While this feat isn’t accessible to everyone, it struck a chord with many of those it reached, sparking a surge in the zero-waste community. Many people who heard about this experiment began to examine their own habits and reduce their own waste, making a big impact! Minimalism is a similar idea, where living only with exactly what you need and nothing more is the task. In a world flooded with overconsumption culture, this movement is making waves as well.
Eco-Bricking is where certain types of plastic bottles are cleaned and dried, and then packed to the brim with smaller, also clean and dry, plastic waste. This forms a solid and durable compact fit for the construction of small and simple buildings, which means you can use them for small projects at home, or they can be used elsewhere— like the project building classrooms out of them in Guatemala.
RePlast is a company making concrete-like bricks out of condensed plastic waste. They’re much lighter than real concrete, however, making them much more climate-friendly to transport. Made to be used in conjunction with traditional construction materials like steel, they’re a great way to reduce plastic and climate pollution while still getting the job done.
An honorable mention, the FabBRICK is actually made out of textile waste, but with many clothing items nowaday being made of plastic fibers, and the fashion industry being one of the largest contributors to waste and pollution, it’s definitely worth talking about. These panels are great insulators and can be pleasing to the eye (depending on whose eyes they are), so they’re both useful and attractive.
Researchers in Japan discovered a bacteria capable of eating PET, a common type of non-biodegradable plastic, in 2016. They theorize that it must have evolved relatively recently since the history of PET is quite short. While tinkering with the enzymes the protein uses to break down this plastic, they accidentally made it much more efficient, meaning with some genetic modification, the bacteria can be made to digest PET much more quickly than it already does (which, by the way, is an impressive speed on its own).
Bottle Blossom Decor
Room dividers, curtains, and string lights are just some of the adorable things you can make from plastic bottles. Michelle Brand created the first of these curtains in 2015, using the very bottoms of the bottles to make a transparent, decorative flower design, and stringing them together. You can learn how to make them yourself here.
KaCaMa is a Hong Kong design lab that utilizes lots of waste, from coathangers and bottle caps to wine corks. Their products not only upcycle trash but also make a statement, both visually and metaphorically. With bold designs and some intense social commentary, this is a project to keep an eye on.
Grocery Bag Weaving
Plastic grocery bags are being put to good use beyond their initial purpose, woven into bags, mats, and other items. With the range of colors and designs on shopping bags nowadays, these objects can come out quite beautifully. They’re also super durable, making them very functional on top of their unique and cool look. I remember having a water bottle holder made this way when I was a kid, and I can attest to their awesomeness!
Ocean Sole Kenya
This project collects used flip-flops and turns them into colorful and amazing works of art. This art is in turn sold and the money from it is used to clean up ocean trash! Their sculptures and displays are absolutely stellar, and each piece is absolutely unique, like this bee! By buying from them you’re also helping reduce Kenya’s sizable unemployment rate of 40%, so it’s a win-win-win!
The Plastic Whale company in Amsterdam is making waterway clean-ups a fun activity for tourists and locals alike! Outings on canal boats made from the very plastics pulled from the water are arranged for those interested to scoop garbage out of the water with nets. Not only is this an ever-popularizing attraction— these plastics are used to make all kinds of awesome furniture, and the company even has a foundation to spread their mission globally.
Bureo is a Brazilian company that has partnered with many brands, including Patagonia and even Jenga, to reduce the amount of plastic fishing nets plaguing the ocean. These nets are then turned into hats, surfboard fins, Jenga games, skateboards with super cool fish scale patterns, and office chairs, among other things. Fishing nets, along with other “ghost gear” like traps and lines, make up 10% of all plastic waste in the ocean, so Bureo and similar companies and organizations’ work is crucial.
Amazing initiatives from Guatemala to Kenya to Australia to Japan, and spanning every inhabited continent, hold one of the few keys to halting the plastic takeover in its tracks. There are endless possibilities to what you can do with plastic waste, your only limit is your own imagination. Hope for the future of our planet and livelihood is not yet lost— but it’ll take all of us to get there. Happy creating!