Pollution & Solutions

“Our waste is a negative force that’s harming us and every other living creature on the planet. It needs to be recycled and reused!”

Notes

Pollution & Solutions (Part 1) is a 13-minute lesson that recounts the impact and extent of the damage caused by our human footprint to the planet and all species. But today we can transform such a big problem into an opportunity. 

“We have a choice and we need to decide now. Do we want our archeology to be trash?

Learn FREE with videos and interactive exercises

Introduction

Video youtube

With the installations she’s created during her travels, Anne tells us about how she found pollution and waste in the most unexpected places, often without even looking for them. 

Describing the new era in which we live, the “Anthropocene”, in which human activity impacts not only the climate and ecosystems but also our health, Anne introduces a number of solutions that the circular economy is already offering to turn this problem into an opportunity.

Download here the video script

Art and Science – BEAUTY & TRASH 1 | BEAUTY & TRASH 2

MIOSKOL, WEST PAPUA, JANUARY 2018

MIOSKOL, WEST PAPUA, JANUARY 2018

Every time I look at the horizon on the Ocean I am inspired by beauty, adventure and hope. My journey to Raja Ampat heightened all these senses. Shells are perfect jewels, we should have kept using them as coins. I had so many within my reach, it was like contemplating a treasure chest of time and beauty. I could not leave the islands without honoring and recounting my seven seas.

I will not put wax on my sculptures to make them look perfect. We live in an era where only sincerity can save us. The faraway beach I chose was splendid but was also surrounded by a sea of plastic. I watched it come in with the tide, beating against the shoreline, a muted message of the untold. I will not let go of my dreams but I will carry no lies. I want to share the beauty, but I also must show the ugliness.

A DEEPER LOOK

As we’ve seen, it’s estimated that we produce over 2 billion tons of waste annually, generating 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent every year, amounting to 5% of our global emissions! Unless this trend is reversed, it’s expected that the emissions generated by waste management by 2050 will rise to 2.6 billion. 

Discarded electric or electronic devices (e-waste) is the world’s fastest growing category of waste products. It’s estimated that in 2019, 53.6 millions tons of it were produced around the world, but only 17.4% of this was recorded as being collected and properly recycled. Even in the European Union, e-waste is the fastest growing waste category, and less than 40% of it is recycled.

What is it, exactly? Discarded electric and electronic devices, including a variety of different products that are discarded after being used for a short or long period of time: appliances (like washing machines and electric heaters), computer and telecommunications devices (smartphones, laptops, printers), consumer equipment (video cameras, fluorescent lightbulbs) and photovoltaic panels, as well as small household appliances (vacuum cleaners, toasters).

These devices contain potentially harmful materials that pollute the environment and increase risks to the workers who recycle them. That is why it’s even more important to properly recycle these products. On top of that, it’s important that before throwing an object away we try to repair it, leveraging on our “right to repair”. Recycling e-waste is important not only in keeping toxic materials such as lead and mercury out of our landfills, but also in recovering rare, precious elements such as cobalt and indium.

Art and Science – HIGH ALTITUDE TRASH 1

VIEW OF EVEREST, KHUMBU ICEFALL, LOTHSE, NUPTSE, LHO LA; 17,800 FEET; MAY 27, 2016

I love you, Mount Everest, and I believe you love me back. You certainly spared me in so many ways. We are biologically programed to love and admire you from afar: at altitudes above 22,000 feet human cells die. That is science, not heart, the way nature made us.

During the 12 days of my swift ascent I witnessed people stumbling down from your peak filled with wonder, shock and sadness. You took so many lives that week. I followed the trail we ALL leave behind, the trash, the dead bodies, the oxygen tanks, the human waste running against your flanks: frozen landfills of environmental hazards. 

In our era we have decided to ignore the rules of nature; shouldn’t we at least do it without leaving a permanent trace of our passage for future generations?

A DEEPER LOOK

Global waste is predicted to grow up to 3.4 billion tons by 2050, more than twice the population growth during the same period. When waste can’t be avoided, recycling brings a remarkable savings in resources. For example, for each ton of recycled paper we can save 17 trees and 50% water. Bringing your own reusable shopping bag and asking cafes and restaurants to stop using plastic straws helps reduce plastic waste. Recycling also creates jobs: the recycling sector employs 12 million people in Brazil, China and the United States alone. Even clothing, footwear and linens are responsible for water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and landfills. 

“Fast fashion”, which makes new styles constantly available at a very low price, has led to a strong increase in the amount of clothing produced, used and then discarded. Globally, less than 1% of clothing is recycled as such, partly due to inadequate technology. And not only is the production of textiles estimated to be responsible for around 20% of the global pollution of drinking water due to the various treatments they undergo, such as dying and finishing; the washing of synthetic clothing accounts for 35% of the release of primary microplastics into the environment, which can end up in the food chain!

On average we have more clothes than we use. Before our next purchase, let’s ask ourselves: Do I really need this? Let’s also remember that when we buy a product we can always choose a producer whose choice of materials, packaging, etc. is more sustainable than others. 

Another good solution is to buy second-hand or vintage clothing. Buying used clothes has become fashionable, and not only due to economic reasons. It’s also a way to create your own style, one distinctive from fast fashion, which drives everyone to buy the same thing because of the lower cost.

Art and Science - DISPOSABLE SUNSET

73.4214° E, 4.22860° N, MALDIVES, MARCH 2016

Upon my arrival I walked out from my room onto the naturally manicured beach of the hotel. There were two plastic bottles floating off in the sunset. For the next five days we collected the new plastic visitors travelling in with the tides, my tourist neighbors oblivious to the tragedy unfolding. I was the only one looking for them and I was the only one to see them. On the last day we briefly put the bottles back into their new kingdom and created this TimeShrine. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. 

A DEEPER LOOK

The use of plastic has definitely helped improve our lives, but its constantly increased production and lack of recycling inevitably lead to an increase in plastic waste and plastic abandoned in the environment. Around the world, a million plastic bottles are consumed each minute, while each year we use five trillion single-use plastic bags (this number has 12 zeroes)! Plastic masks are playing an essential role in limiting the further spread of COVID-19. However, we’ve witnessed a sharp increase in plastic waste due to the demand for masks and gloves. In all, half of the plastic produced is designed to be used a single time and then thrown away.

The consumption and production of plastic mean resorting to the use of huge quantities of fossil fuels, with serious consequences for the environment and the evolution of climate change. If the production and use of plastic continue to rise as expected, by 2050 this sector will account for 20% of the global oil consumption, a huge increase over the current level of 7%.

Analysis

Analysis to be developed through individual or group research

1. Instead of being recycled and reused, our waste becomes a negative force that pollutes us and every other living creature on the planet. What can you do to reduce the amount of waste you produce? 

Definitely proper waste sorting, so the things we discard can be transformed and given a new life. And then, before buying a new product, asking ourselves whether we really need it. For many electrical appliances we can also claim our “right to repair”, which was recently introduced by the European Union. This requires producers of washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators and televisions to respect specific design and creation criteria, making them easy to fix. What’s more, producers are obligated to make available spare parts, which in the past were often impossible to find. New apps now allow us to swap things we no longer use with people who could use them. 

2. We’re living in the time of the Anthropocene, in which mankind has become a geological force on par with volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. We need to become a positive geological force. But how?

By changing our consumption habits, trying to make them more sustainable: using electric energy that comes from certified green certificates, getting around on public transportation or by bike. Lowering the thermostat one degree in winter and raising it in summer is behavior that ensures we save energy, and money too. We can also be proactive by putting plants in our gardens and balconies, and by taking part in tree-planting events. Finally, let’s not forget that by choosing our national and local representatives we can influence the environmental decisions made. 

Practical Exercise: Living a Day Without Plastic

Imagine your day. Start with your morning routine. Toothbrush. Shower. Work. School. Lunch. Shopping. 

Now, imagine spending your day without a single piece of plastic. Could you? 

We depend on plastic. But you can help ensure the plastic you use doesn’t reach the bottom of the ocean. A three-point plan is an excellent starting point: drastically reduce the amount of disposable plastic you use; switch to reusable containers and other everyday items; and recycle what you no longer need.

Every small action can help reverse the plastic pollution trend.