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  • Writer's pictureBeth Szurpicki

Mess Part 1: How did we get into this MESS?

This content was originally shared as a miniseries on our instagram @packt.ca.


We’re in a single-use mess, people. And we want to share our understanding of how we got here with a recap of how single-use started, who was behind it, how they’ve kept it going with myths like recycling, and where we are today.


Big oil and gas companies, aka Big Plastic, would have you believe this Mess we’re in was an unavoidable accident that they care deeply about. The truth is, Plastics have been manipulating our ‘choice’ from day 1 - which doesn’t feel like choice at all. They’ve convinced us that we need them, that single-use gives us lifestyle freedoms we can’t do without.


We think you’d like the truth. We think you’d like the freedom of transparent choice: to choose products that align with your values.


Let’s go back to the beginning. Humans are not inherently wasteful creatures. Considering our current take-and-trash systems, it is hard to believe isn’t it? So what happened?


In short, after WWII, consumerism was born out of the need to keep businesses and jobs alive. But more importantly, to keep profits growing. And to keep profits growing, we had to keep buying, so things couldn’t be made to last. Voila, single-use was born.



So how did the shift to single-use manifest?


Beverages used to be sold in glass bottles: the bottles would be returned, cleaned and reused, because using them didn’t compromise their integrity. A beautiful reuse system (they just needed a new cap). But the metal manufacturers that needed to keep busy after WWII needed to pivot into new markets, so they slid into the beverage market and the 1st single-use item was born: aluminum cans. Unlike glass bottles, cans once punctured can’t be reused.


Similarly, the production of plastic for war efforts looked for a pivot, and boy did they find it: everywhere! Plastic was marketed as a new great invention: durable and safe, perfect for anything andeverything.


Even though plastic is sturdy, new plastics were designed to be disposable (you guessed it: to put more money in Plastics pockets. 👀 Seeing the pattern?)

“We were trained to buy this stuff.”

- Odile Madden, plastic conservation scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute


So did we just adopt single-use plastics without question? Not so much: 2 things had to change.


Enter public deception #1: Plastics had to convince people that their current way of life wasn’t good enough as it was – even though people didn’t really feel that way.


Single-use items were sold to us ‘to make life better, easier.’ Spot the marketing magic there: Plastics feeding us the idea that our life was not good, not easy.


But we weren’t accustomed to using things once then considering them garbage.

Enter Public deception #2: Plastics had to teach people it was ok to endlessly ‘throw away.’ Because we basically didn’t know how. Big Plastics’ marketing machine pulled another fast one and launched campaigns to show us it was ok to use something once and put it in the bin.


But shortly after, people started to notice the waste being created and grew concerned.


So did we stop using them? No. You guessed it. There was a third ace up Big Plastics’ sleeve.


Continue reading with Part 2: The myth of recycling.




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