That whole plastic recycling being a scam propagated by the oil companies to sell more plastic is bothering me more than I expected. It’s probably some weird sideways reaction to the pandemic. Some people are mourning the loss of normal. Me? I’m mourning lost imaginaries.
The imaginary world we lost because of this recycling thing is almost close enough to touch. Just look around. Wherever you are. Just look at the amount of plastic shit you’re surrounded by. Where it’s needed and where it’s not.
Looking at that, I can’t help but imagine if we had of just done it right and got off plastic. What would that world look like? I don’t even mean the waste. I just mean the world we live in. What would it look like? I imagine that there’d be a lot more wood, metal, and glass. A lot more durable and better shit. A lot more to polish and a lot more to care about.
A more tactile, visually pleasing, and liveable world. A world that demanded learning, maintenance, and improvement.
You’d probably bring some reusable bottle to get your shampoo refill. That would make some weight. That would probably mean delivery. It’s not much of a stretch to think that we’d still have milkmen. Probably shampoomen too. Leave your bottles out, get em cleaned and get new shit on the doorstep. I imagine the uniforms would all be seafoam green and baby pink. A shampooman union. Shampoo, Sunblock and Milkmen United Local 756. And you’d have to trust your neighbors not to steal and they’d have to trust you.
The world would be a bit more durable and this, I think, would change our relationship to consumption. Right now, that relationship is largely based on packaging and disposables. It’s based on appearance and garbage. We often buy things because they’re pretty and pretty easy to throw out. It’s like some janky sex and death drive.
In such an unplastic world, marketing would also have to change. After all, with every object, you’d also be selling a sort of investment in the future. That would change the whole tenor of the culture. We’d have to look forward with an idea of preservation. That’s something we don’t seem to do enough of.
There’d be a better and more ubiquitous concept of custodianship – a set of values that seems utterly neglected and dead in our current version of reality. After all, you’d have to look after your shit. Get it repaired. Be ready to live with it. Make a fucking commitment to an object. This habit would inform our relationship to each other and the natural world. You have any idea what that idea would do to fashion?
Fashion as currently constructed is based on the cheap and the disposable. And we are nothing if not creatures of fashion. Fashion is our suicidal ecology. Fashion is our culture and fashion is its only remaining content.
I mean, I’m sure a world where unnecessary plastic was absent could all go terribly wrong too (and I can think of quite a few ways just off the top of my head) but, unlike those who want to “return to normal”, I’m not mourning the loss of a terrible world. I’m sad about the loss of an imaginary half-decent one. The world we might have had if we weren’t lied to about recycling. The world where we just quit the unnecessary fucking plastic.
And something I think the pandemic can teach us -if we care to learn- is that quality of life is not directly equated to our rate of consumption. Having more isn’t always better. There’s other values, other things to do, and other things to have than more plastic shit. Time is a good thing to have. Going slow is not evil. Durability is important. Custodians are of as much value as innovators – sometimes more.
Time isn’t worth trading for a fucking funkopop or whatever. But that’s what we’ve done. That’s the trade we’ve made and we’ve made it on industrial scales. It’s a bad deal. Really bad. And the bill is coming due. With interest.