Waste and problem creation

-Melissa Da Costa

Fifty years back, when paper bags ruled the consumer circuit, concerns started arising about their impracticality on domestic and environmental levels. Not only were paper bags no longer durable enough, but people became concerned about the amount of trees that were cut down to fuel the world’s growing consumer needs. “That’s terribly environmentally unfriendly!” they cried. “There must be another way!” And so, to solve the problem of the paper bag, the plastic shopping bag was invented.

Manufactured from polyethylene, plastic shopping bags were lightweight and durable, and successfully solved the problems that the paper bag had introduced. However, the aforementioned merits were exactly the problems with the plastic bag. Their light weight allowed them to travel great distances on the wind, and their resistance to decomposition meant that they remained in the environment for thousands of years. In addition, because these bags are mass produced on one side of the world, shipped all over it to be used, and then shipped back to where they started to be recycled, created the even greater problem of excessive fuel consumption. What was originally sought out as a solution to an environmental problem was in fact the start of an even greater dilemma.

Another solution to a popular consumer problem was the introduction of the disposable plastic water bottle in the place of bottles made of glass. Inexpensive, shatter resistant and lighter to transport, the plastic water bottle seemed like the rational way to go. Both disposable plastic bottles and plastic shopping bags, however, are manufactured using petroleum, and play a role in the combustion and inevitable exhaustion of fossil fuels.

In both cases, supposed solutions to interconnected environmental and consumer-driven problems have resulted in further problems, yet the same problem-solving methods are continuously employed to solve new resultant problems. The reasoning and problem-solving methods utilised in these processes are obviously not the right ones. Something in our problem solving therefore needs to be altered in order to solve problems without creating new ones. The situations need to be looked at in a new way to prevent the same mistakes being made over and over again.

Being only a third-year Fine Arts student, I can offer no solution to these problems at this point, and the knowledge that we are stuck in this pattern of recidivism has turned me into a cynic. I no longer have faith in a humanity that turns its attention away from the problems that it itself creates. All I can do right now, therefore, is to hope that by writing posts such as this, I can open the eyes of a few of the people around me to the ineffectiveness of our current “solutions” to environmental problems, and hope that together we can change our problem-solving patterns to finally end the patterns of problem creating.

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