Mind Over Plastic: The Future Is Now

In 1955, LIFE magazine featured the article "Throwaway Living" which extolled the virtues of disposable items such as single-use plastics and foretold what was to become our throw-away society.

In 1967, Dustin Hoffman starred in The Graduate. In this prophetic scene, Hoffman -- playing the role of the young, naïve, Benjamin Braddock who had just graduated from college -- gets a little advice from an old family friend:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

In 2013, we are still a throw-away society with a fixation on single-use plastics. But what we are throwing away is no longer just a plastic bag or a water bottle. We are throwing away vital resources, we are trashing our environment, and we are selfishly tossing aside hope of a sustainable future and the promise of prosperity for the next generation and generations to come.

As we begin to fully appreciate all of the ramifications of our infatuation with single-use plastics, the message is clear, we need to change our ways.

As we contemplate our future and the future of our planet; as we awaken to the realization that a future dependent on single-use plastics is no future at all, the inescapable conclusion is that we need to think beyond plastic and we need to do it now!

In an earlier article, I talked about the first ever Think Beyond Plastic Innovation Competition that was sponsored by the Plastic Pollution Coalition as part of a global search to seek disruptive solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.

On June 14, 2013, the winners of the inaugural event were announced at an awards ceremony and conference hosted by Ed Begley Jr., and attended by such notables as Alice Waters and Jackson Browne.

The competition drew over 100 applicants from countries around the world including Romania, Slovenia, Kenya, Malaysia, UAE and the United States. You can learn more about the 2013 entrants and their innovative ideas in this video.

The Winners of the Most Innovative Business award were DGrade Clothing (UAE), a designer and producer of clothing collections from recycled post-consumer plastic bottles; and Pulp Works (USA), creating sustainable packaging alternatives made from pulp.

The Winners of the Most Promising Emerging Business were BYOB Green Concepts (Malaysia), offering bulk cleaning products and refill stations, in.gredients (USA), a grocery store committed to reducing all packaging, and Amazi (USA), a digital phone app aimed at helping consumers find clean water to refill reusable containers.

The Winners in Their Own Words

Kris Barber -- DGrade Clothing:

"Since my early school days back in the mid-seventies, I have been an enthusiastic surfer and beach goer. Even after deciding to follow a career in textile and garment manufacturing, I spent as much free time as possible, surfing around Europe and traveling to remote surf spots around the world in search of the perfect wave. It was on these travels that I began to realize how much plastic was being washed up onto the beaches.

Millions of plastic bottles are produced every day and little, if anything, is done by these companies to reclaim or recycle the huge volumes of plastic they have created. They realize it is cheaper just to make more bottles than to recycle what they have already produced.

I realized that certain recyclable plastics were made from the same compound as Polyester and that through research and development it would be possible to refine the process to create recycled Polyester yarns from plastic bottles."

DGrade Clothing

Paul Tasner -- Pulpworks, Inc.:

"We were initially attracted to molded pulp because of its simple origins -- waste paper, garbage -- but the notion of building a sustainable packaging business around it didn't strike us until an eventful visit to the local pharmacy back in 2011. Once you begin to take notice of the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in consumer goods packaging, you quickly realize how ubiquitous it is. Stores are "seas" of PVC blister packaging. Landfills, too, are choking in discarded PVC packaging.

We designed an eco-friendly alternative to the PVC blister pack using nothing but cardboard and molded pulp. We called it our "PW-Pack" -- the "un-blister". We filed a patent on this innovative package -- and PulpWorks was launched.

The "PW-Pack" represented something radically new in the use of molded pulp packaging. For the first since the "granddaddy" of molded pulp packages -- the humble egg carton -- molded pulp was utilized as highly visible retail packaging.

Pulpworks, Inc.

Wilson Lai -- BYOB Green Concepts:

"We have been in the soap/detergents making industry for more than 20 years. It hurt me to see customers treating plastic bottles and containers like some kind of disposable trash. I have spoken with our customers about the problem and realized that they understand how polluting single-use plastics are. They were longing for an alternative method to purchase household soaps and detergents. Hence BYOB Green Concepts was born.

We are an environmental-friendly business built around the 3R concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle. Many times we hear people use those three words but how many of use actually put it to use?

I used to think that I was the only one who cares, but thanks to the Think Beyond Plastic Innovation Competition, I now know that there are a lot people, entrepreneurs just like myself, that want to do the same thing that I am trying to achieve."

BYOB Green Concepts

Christian Lane -- in.gredients:

"It's been a collection of information, events and people that have inspired us to find a different way of buying and selling food. We've paid attention to the facts and figures and to people like our grandmother who lived through the Great Depression -- she re-used everything. We've also paid attention to folks like Alice Waters, Michael Pollan and Rachel Botsman who have inspired us to craft a new approach.

Our mission is to minimize waste and promote healthy, sustainable lifestyles by selling local food with pure ingredients, package-free. There's no waste in nature. Waste is a human invention.

As good stewards of our environment, our top priority is to reduce the amount of waste we produce and reuse what we have. Being package-free radically limits our waste generation. Our business will be waste free; your home can be waste free too."


Crystal Plew -- Amazi:

"We have always been aware of the plastic pollution crisis, but when we started to do the field and market research to build Amazi, we had to comb through tons of information and statistics on the true devastation that is currently happening around the world and how bottled water is just a fraction of the epidemic -- albeit a large fraction.

After educating ourselves on the numbers and really seeing how vast this problem spans, it was then that we truly realized the dire need for Amazi. Our product is a smart phone app that makes it easy to find locations -- such as businesses, campuses and city water stations -- to fill eco-friendly containers.

Our goal is to make filling reusable bottles as easy as buying a new one. We are dedicated to ending the consumption of bottled water, by offering a sensible alternative, and aiding in the clean water crisis around the globe."


The future is now. If you like what the winners and the other entrants in the competition are doing to exert mind over plastic, let them know, because their hard work, their vision, innovation and invention are intended to give all of us a better life without plastic.

Plans are already underway for the 2014 Think beyond Plastic Innovation Competition. For more information, keep checking here.