Manufacturing is expanding to our desktops, giving us the ability to simply click 'print' and create our very own stream of endless plastic objects. Customized! Only make the part you need! Open source! But where does this lead? I can't help but think that convenience begets wastefulness. Isn't the plastic bag the scourge of our society? Which reminds me.... There are giant islands and microscopic bits of plastic in our oceans.
Jenna Jambeck, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia, is the lead author of a study recently published in Science Magazine documenting the quantity of plastic waste entering the oceans. The study points to population size and quality of waste management systems as the major factors in determining the amount of uncaptured plastic waste in the ocean.
While Americans generate 2.6 kilograms of waste per person per day, or 5.7 pounds, to China’s 1.10 kilograms, the United States ranked lower on the list because of its more efficient waste management, Professor Jambeck said.
Plastics have been spotted in the oceans since the 1970s. In the intervening decades, masses of junk have been observed floating where ocean currents come together, and debris can be found on the remotest beaches and in arctic sea ice.
The problem is more than an aesthetic one: Exposed to saltwater and sun, and the jostling of the surf, the debris shreds into tiny pieces that become coated with toxic substances like PCBs and other pollutants. (John Schwartz http://nyti.ms/16Zah6H)
As is it nearly impossible to remove trash from the marine ecosystem, Jambeck's study indicates that we must focus our attention on waste management to stem the flow of plastics into the ocean. We can build bigger and better landfills, which has it's own set of environmental repercussions, or we can attempt to design less wasteful systems that support human life while reducing our enormous drain of ecologic resources.
As the 3D printer becomes ubiquitous in my education at RISD, this question sits at the back of my head as I click 'print': where will this object end up and will it be worth it?