The tragedy is that plastic has become so cheap and common that nobody regards it as important. That’s why we’re choking our planet to death with the stuff. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
The tragedy is that plastic has become so cheap and common that nobody regards it as important. That’s why we’re choking our planet to death with the stuff. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Will future historians refer to our time as the Plastic Age?

By David Biggs Time of article published May 7, 2021

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You know you’re getting old when you can remember a time before plastic. We talk about the historical ages of the human race — the Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Bronze Age — and I sometimes wonder whether future historians will refer to our time as the Plastic Age.

Look around you at the plastic world we live in.

Apart from the throw-away plastic packaging that’s choking our rivers and oceans, we sit on plastic furniture, use plastic containers, paddle plastic kayaks, wear plastic footwear, communicate via plastic devices, the list is endless.

A friend told me recently that his wife had reversed her car into a lamp-post and dented it. The garage quoted R8 000 to fix it, but he realised the panel was plastic so he heated it with his wife’s hair dryer and pushed the softened area gently back into shape. He sent me a photo and it looked as good as new.

My local hardware store even sells artificial lawn — plastic garden! I can remember the first time I encountered this ubiquitous substance.

It must have been in 1945, when many South African men were returning from the German battlefields and prison camps of World War II.

One of my uncles presented me with a little toy car he’d bought in England and said, “It’s made of a new material called plastic”. Frankly, it was pretty basic, more or less shapeless, and not anything as good as my painted tin toy cars, but one doesn’t look a gift car in the mouth, asyermightsay.

We actually had very few toys during that time. All the factories were making guns for our men “up north”. I wonder how many kids today have toy cars that are not made of plastic.

The tragedy is that plastic has become so cheap and common that nobody regards it as important. That’s why we’re choking our planet to death with the stuff. I believe we could put all that waste plastic to good use.

Collect it, recycle it and mould it into building panels to created housing for the homeless. We waste a huge amount of time and money chopping down precious forests for building material when we are surrounded by a knee-deep ocean of raw material that’s available completely free.

Maybe future historians will say, “If you dig down through the plastic strata, you come across amazing signs of a primitive civilisation that lived in structures made of sand, stones and trees”.

Nobody will believe that.

Last Laugh

The local parson was admiring the beautiful garden of one of his parishioners.

“It’s amazing what one can do with the help of the Almighty”, he said.

“Yes, indeed,” said the gardener, “but you should have seen what a mess it was when He had it all to Himself.”

* "Tavern of the Seas" is a column written in the Cape Argus by David Biggs. Biggs can be contacted at [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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