Plastic Free July: How Can Design Reduce Plastic Pollution?

Alfred Tang

Hatched by Alfred Tang

Sep 03, 2023

3 min read


Plastic Free July: How Can Design Reduce Plastic Pollution?

Plastic pollution has become a global crisis, with the annual flow of plastic into the ocean projected to triple by 2040. As we face the daunting task of tackling this issue, it is crucial to explore innovative solutions and consider how design can play a role in reducing plastic waste. In this article, we will delve into the topic of plastic pollution and explore the potential of design in addressing this pressing environmental concern.

One of the key areas where design can make a difference is in the packaging industry. Plastic bottles, for example, are a major contributor to plastic pollution. However, some companies are taking steps to improve the quality of the material produced by recycling these bottles. Sprite, a popular beverage brand, has recently made a significant change in their packaging design. They have transitioned from green bottles to clear bottles, making it easier to recycle and produce high-quality recycled plastic.

While efforts like these are commendable, it is important to note that design alone cannot solve the plastic pollution problem. It requires a holistic approach that takes into account the entire lifecycle of plastic products, from production to disposal. This brings us to the issue of "biodegradable plastics" or PLA (polylactic acid). PLA is often hailed as a more sustainable alternative to traditional plastics, but its disposal and recycling present challenges.

PLA belongs to the seventh category of plastics in the traditional recycling classification, further complicating the sorting process. Additionally, without a comprehensive recycling system and proper composting facilities, PLA ends up in landfills just like traditional plastics. Even if PLA is correctly recycled, there is currently no legislation in place in Taiwan to regulate its recycling and composting. This means that even if businesses manage to recycle and produce compost from PLA, they cannot legally sell it, hindering the circular flow of both money and materials.

Moreover, PLA is not as environmentally friendly as it may seem. While it is biodegradable, its decomposition requires specific conditions, such as high temperatures and humidity, which are not typically found in landfills. Without these conditions, PLA may take a considerable amount of time to break down, contributing to the persistence of plastic waste.

To effectively reduce plastic pollution, it is crucial to adopt a more comprehensive approach that involves legislation, infrastructure development, and consumer awareness. Here are three actionable steps that can be taken:

  • 1. Improve recycling and composting infrastructure: Governments and businesses should invest in the development of recycling and composting facilities that can handle different types of plastics, including PLA. This would ensure that these materials can be properly processed and reintroduced into the production cycle.
  • 2. Educate consumers about proper disposal: Many people are still unaware of the correct methods for disposing of different types of plastics. By providing clear guidelines and raising awareness about recycling and composting, individuals can make more informed choices and contribute to reducing plastic pollution.
  • 3. Encourage sustainable design practices: Designers have a crucial role to play in reducing plastic waste. By prioritizing sustainable materials and designing products with recyclability and end-of-life considerations in mind, they can help minimize the environmental impact of their creations.

In conclusion, plastic pollution is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. Design can certainly contribute to reducing plastic waste, but it must be accompanied by legislative measures, infrastructure development, and increased consumer awareness. By working together and implementing the actionable steps outlined above, we can make significant progress in combating plastic pollution and creating a more sustainable future.

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