Learning for a Plastic World

Key concepts:

• new media – critical engagement
• cradle-to-cradle design
• synergy across biosphere & technosphere
• principles: self-organization, connectivity, feedback, collaboration (collaborative intelligence if their behavior is “smart”)  and emergence

“Plastic World” in our title has two connotations: the material connotation of a world filled with plastic, and the non-material connotation of a learning society that is “plastic,” flexible to absorb new insights and shift patterns to address a problem. Two amazing champions who foresaw the threats we face today sit at one table:

The National Geographic in its tradition of outstanding reporting is addressing the plastic challenge and recently released an outstanding educational animation, provocatively titled “Are you having plastic for dinner?”

The United Nations Oceans Conference June 5 – 9, 2017.


UNEP has launched an online course on marine litter.


Mission Blue

Mission Blue focuses on saving Hopespots, the last great heritage ocean preserves, from destruction from environmental waste and development. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue, former Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), has chosen to focus on the gifts of the ocean to all life, rather than on the debris.


Sylvia Earle has been a leader, inspirer, and educator throughout her life, which as described by Film Director James Cameron in the documentary Mission Blue.

In their publication Cradle-to-Cradle design by Michael Braungart, William McDonough, and Andrew Bollinger, explore a strategy for eco-effective product and system design. Their eco-effective and cradle-to-cradle design provides an alternative design and production concept to the strategies of zero emission and eco-efficiency. The abstract for the book states that eco-effectiveness moves beyond zero emission approaches by focusing on the development of products and industrial systems that maintain or enhance the quality and productivity of materials through subsequent life cycles.


The concept of eco-effectiveness also addresses the major shortcomings of eco-efficiency approaches: their inability to address the necessity for fundamental redesign of material flows, their inherent antagonism towards long-term economic growth and innovation, and their insufficiency in addressing toxicity issues. The transition to eco-effective industrial systems involves a five-step process beginning with an elimination of undesirable substances and ultimately calling for a reinvention of products by reconsidering how they may optimally fulfill the need or needs for which they are actually intended while simultaneously being supportive of ecological and social systems. This process necessitates the creation of an The concept of intelligent materials pooling illustrates how an eco-effective system of management could coordinate material flows in the product system.

IDEO Open, which works closely with the Stanford D School (D for Design) is partnering with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to run a design challenge on packaging and has formed a discussion group about the circular economy on LinkedIn.

The University of California, Berkeley has a Carbon Neutrality Initiative, announced in 2013, which commits UC’s 10 campuses to become carbon neutral by 2025, reducing emissions from its buildings and vehicle fleet by about 80 percent, or 115,000 metric tons. The Cal Climate Action Partnership, part of the Office of Sustainability and Energy, made up of a coalition of students, faculty and staff spearheaded the Berkeley campus’s push for carbon neutrality.

Programs for university level and adults need to be complemented by programs for younger learners. Kurzgesagt presents very clear material for school use.

Life Without Plastic provides information on alternatives to plastics, how safe they are, and whether they can be easily recycled, including glass, ceramic, stainless steel, and wood. Professor Minoo Moallem, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, knew finding alternatives to plastic would be difficult, if not impossible. The exercise raised awareness of our reliance on plastic.

Zann Gill for earthDECKS

Related Topics:  Saving Our Oceans from Plastic


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