mardi 15 septembre 2009

Compostable and "Biodegradable" Plastics Provide False Sense of Responsibility

It seems everywhere I go these days, another restaurant is serving drinks in "biodegradable" plastic cups and food with potatoware disposable cutlery. And it really bugs me. But why would I be against making wasteful disposable plastic a little greener, you ask? Because without coupling the use of these biodegradable plastics with the ability to recover them, we are reinforcing a false sense of responsibility that we are doing good by the environment when we really aren't. If the composting infrastructure is not in place to recover the bio-material from that corn-based cup, it's really no better than the ubiquitous red plastic keg cup.
If we are successful in designing products that couple material use and recovery, however, two beautiful things happen. First, more composting infrastructure develops to serve demand, which opens up the recapture of all sorts of other biomaterials. Second, it encourages the responsible transition to more biomaterials, and it spurs the development of the requisite infrastructure needed to supply these products. This virtuous cycle is precisely the type of step that will take us demonstrably closer to a sustainable economy. It's another vivid example that shows us that sustainability is a design problem, and broader design thinking can lead us to solutions.

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