CHANGING STREAMS: The science of adaptation (Part 1)

Heart or head?

We are all familiar with the spectacle of plastic rubbish, whether in our own kitchens and bathrooms, spread along the roadside by irresponsible campers or passers-by, or scattered from public litter by foraging seagulls, foxes and magpies. Yuk.

Photographs of turtles and other marine mammals caught in plastic rubbish which has made its way (or been assisted so to do) into our oceans are dramatic and emotive ‘Shocking, it must be stopped’, I hear you say.

At a different end of the spectrum, we can hear statements such as ‘of course plastic packaging is essential to keep food fresh and prevent wastage’, ‘plastic is lighter and therefore more environmentally friendly than wood or cardboard and doesn’t need us to cut down forests’.

We all have opinions, but what do we base these on?

At Changing Streams, we believe that the continuing and ever-increasing production of plastic is doing long-term damage to our planet and the ecosystem (and that includes us, the human race). If we are going to reduce dependence on plastic we need to understand how these impacts on production and human behaviour in the industries and supply chains involved. Reduction of plastic may in many cases require substitution with alternative materials – these will have to be sustainable and will need to stand up to scrutiny regarding their functional properties (i.e., do they work as well as what they are replacing). Cutting edge science and technology will be required to develop and test such materials.

While we can influence people by our opinions, in the long term we need to be able to back up our views with facts, and this is where the science comes in. We need a responsible dialogue, filtering out the facts, making sure that we influence and lead change responsibly, and driving innovation based on research.

Especially during the COVID pandemic, we have all to some extent become citizen scientists – we have probably seen more graphs and diagrams on mainstream TV than ever before! Science – in other words the acquisition of knowledge by examination of facts rather than opinion – does not need to be scary and should not be the province only of boffins in fantastical laboratories but should be something that we are all comfortable with. We will be presenting an occasional series of articles to pull together some of the evidence as it is published by leading scientists, to help in the journey of adaptation to the challenges posed by the invention and widespread use of plastic. 

We’ll be looking at what plastic is, where it comes from and what happens to it at the end of its life. We’ll look what is known about the effects of plastic on the planet and the science around recycling and the circular economy. In practical terms, we will also look at what sustainable alternatives, both in materials and processes, might be.

So …..sit back, fasten your seat belts and join us on our journey through the world of plastic……….!

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