Hear me out. I kid you not, as I’m writing this, an article has just gone viral across the news channels on my Facebook feed – “You could be ingesting a teaspoon of microplastic every week, study finds” said ABC News. They’re equating that teaspoon’s worth to a credit card… imagine chowing down on your AMEX every week!
It’s now plainly clear that our planet is choking on a plastic overdose and it seems we all could be, too. Not surprisingly, this once-revolutionary material now has a pretty terrible reputation. So how bad is it?
Well, we have an amazing partnership with Moda Sparkling and we recently had them pop up on our stand at Hair Expo to help us promote ‘changing habits’. Not only do these guys provide a lush alternative to bottled water (sparkling water on tap? Cheers to that!) but they gave us some huge stats on what’s actually going on in that market.
20,000 plastic single-use bottles are being produced globally every second… EVERY SECOND! Yet only half of them are recycled. That means 10,000 plastic bottles are being tossed into our environment (either into landfill or littering our waterways) every second of every day. And each one takes roughly 450 years to degrade.
This is only one example. There’s food packaging, plastic bags, straws, micro-plastics in cosmetics… hell, did you know there’s even plastic in tea bags? We’ve surrounded ourselves.
According to that study on the ABC News website (a collation of findings from 50 international research papers), since 2000 the world has produced as much plastic as all the preceding years combined, and a third of it has now leaked into nature. It also said 104 million metric tonnes of plastic could be released into the environment by 2030 If we don’t act now.
These are some pretty heavy discussion points. But, I’m not the kind of guy who likes to dwell on the doom and gloom, so let me shift to the cool part of my soapbox… plastic isn’t to blame here! It’s actually an incredible invention.
The word plastic has its roots in the Greek word ‘plastikos’, which translates to “capable of being molded or shaped”. Englishman Alexander Parkes created Parkesine, the first man-made plastic in 1856, with the world’s first fully synthetic plastic (bakelite) invented in New York in 1907 by Leo Baekeland – this guy also coined the term ‘plastics’.
This material has opened up a world of positive opportunities for modern society. The automotive industry has started replacing metal with plastic because it’s drastically improving fuel efficiency by making the vehicle lighter. Plus, it creates new design options and improves safety to boot!
The construction industry is starting to cotton on, too. Plastic home insulation is solving heat loss issues and it’s lightweight, rigid, cheap and efficient to produce – it takes 16% less energy and produces 9% less greenhouse gas emissions than other insulation materials. And it’s economical for the same reason it’s damaging in landfill – it’s not going anywhere anytime soon!
Plastic can also save lives. Here’s a lightbulb moment for you: Lego is made from the same type of plastic used to make hard hats. If you start stacking Lego bricks on top of one another, you could make a tower 3.5km high before the bricks at the bottom give out. That explains so much… about hard hats AND those painful middle-of-the-night Lego incidents many parents survive (just).
And we haven’t even started on the medical industry yet. I’d probably need an entire issue of Hair Biz to cover this properly but let me just say that plastic has made medical procedures simpler, faster, increasingly long-lasting, more widely available (thanks to cost and transportability) and has drastically reduced the risk of infection.
Plastic, when used in the right way, can arguably improve humanity. But humanity is inarguably ruining plastic. The way I see it, we’re dropping the ball in three ways:
We’re addicted to convenience
Instead of items designed to use and use again, we became mesmerised by items that we could use once and throw away because we discovered we didn’t have to carry stuff around or wash things up anymore. We were so attracted to this new way of life, we convinced ourselves it was cheap enough to justify (even though bottled water is officially more expensive than fuel per litre. What the hell?). Thankfully, the tides are changing on this with more governments and industry stepping up to reverse it.
There are tossers out there!
Yes, the fact that it’s being mass-produced is the root of the problem, but there are straight-up tossers out there who are still carelessly chucking stuff anywhere but the bins provided. I actually cannot believe it’s still happening. Needless to say, this is devastating our flora and fauna.
Recycling is STILL not the norm
And then we have landfill. Only 14% of plastic is recycled globally, with infrastructure and cost really the main issue here. Better separation, collection, processing and recycling systems are needed throughout all industries and residential locally to really tackle this head on. It’s the reason Sustainable Salons came to life – we saw a way to offer an easy, seamless and cost-effective option and now we can process and recycle up to 95% of waste from a salon.
We work with insanely clever people who are proving that recycling plastic can have awesome results! Our friends at Plastic Forests take our discarded salon plastics and weave them into super strong underground cable covers and landscaping supplies, while Replas molds them into park benches and picnic tables. And… drumroll please… we have a mind-blowingly excellent project coming up in a couple of months involving our shampoo bottles and a limited-edition fashion accessory. I can’t wait! it’s all about showing off the potential of closed loop thinking.
Plastic is fantastic… and it’s time we rethink its purpose and recycle its reputation.
Sustainable Salons provides the most comprehensive resource recovery program to salons. We collect and recycle up to 95% of a salon’s waste and reward them for their recycling efforts!
Contact us here if you’d like to become a member of Sustainable Salons.