We the living beings, be we bacteria, invertebrates, plants or mammals, are organisms with a closed but at the same time open metabolism, because we need to take energy and matter from around us to be able to make this metabolism work and also return this matter to our environment.
Thus, since the beginning of time and in order to survive, all living beings have fed on our more or less immediate environment and returned to it as waste the matter we have used. These wastes become food for other living beings, in food chains that make us dependent on each other.
The set of all these living beings is the biosphere, which forms a whole in which matter is constantly recycled, a huge system that can be analyzed as a single ecosystem and in which nothing is really «waste», but everything always ends up being reused by other living beings or returns to the environment as more or less inert matter.
Humans have lived doing this until relatively recently, despite the fact that our success as a species and our exponential growth over millennia or centuries has already altered many ecosystems, some of which have become deserts, or nearly so.
But in the last century all this has changed for the worse, especially with the explosion of chemistry, which has made it possible to create molecules and materials that had never existed in the biosphere, materials that we use and throw into the environment in the form of waste, and we have discovered that other living beings do not have an easy time recycling them and incorporating them into their metabolic cycles.
Plastics are the paradigm of this, materials that last a long time (which is precisely what those who invented them were looking for) and that resist being degraded and assimilated by living beings.
For many years this did not matter too much to us, but in recent decades we have discovered that, in addition to polluting and accumulating in the environment, these polymers are flooding food chains in the form of microplastics. And we don’t yet know too well what consequences it will have for the biosphere as a whole. And for us, who are part of it.
However, in these same last decades we have used more and more plastics and invented more and more synthetic materials to make everything, and on top of that we have made more and more disposable products, so the problem is not exactly in regression, but in full expansion. And the warnings from environmental activists who have been denouncing it for decades, have so far achieved timid legislation that only allows a small part of these materials to be recovered or recycled.
The marketing rhetoric used by the companies that manufacture and use them has helped a lot, because it has convinced many people that the problem is being solved, when the truth is that it is far from being achieved. We have as an example all the messages about «recyclable» materials, which does not mean in any case that they are really recycled, as has been denounced in recent years about the massive shipment of waste and garbage to poor countries where the most normal thing is that they limit themselves to «valorizing» them by burning them.
The end result is that the biosphere has been filled with more and more synthetic materials that the living beings that make it up cannot metabolize, so that they are already altering entire ecosystems, we still don’t know with what consequences, the uncertainty is huge.
Faced with all this, it is not feasible to delve into the current policies and protocols, but the need for a radical change is imposed, a radical change that involves redesigning the entire industry by incorporating the biosphere’s «philosophy»: manufacture thinking about the re-incorporation into the food chains of the materials used, especially single-use ones (which should be limited to the minimum), and integrating everything thinking about the long term, the very long term.
Indeed, there are already many small and large designers and manufacturers who are honestly trying to do this, but the truth is that the bulk of the industry is quite oblivious to it, and they make little effort to appear to care, and then go to great lengths to let everyone know.
It is what is known as «greenwashing» (which, by the way, could be changed to other more suitable concepts, such as «greenpainting» or «green makeup«, this link explains why).
Making this huge conversion will not be easy, and it will hardly be achieved on the basis of government legislation and regulations alone: the resistance to adopting them has already been seen to be enormous, and it generates filibuster dynamics of denials at various levels, so that it would be best to look for other ways to get there.
Be that as it may, humans have to adapt to the biosphere and stop being the cancer that is eating it. Because right now the most urgent thing is to try to slow down or mitigate climate change and global warming, but we have many open fronts and we have to start addressing them.
Josep Maria Camps Collet