Individual Paper: Plastics in a degrowth society? Perhaps:
A profitable plastics industry? Most definitely not!
We live in a world of paradoxes. On the one hand, the globalised capitalist system produces far too much material ‘stuff’, resulting in the depletion of natural resources and the transgression of multiple planetary boundaries. This reality forms the basis of ecological arguments for degrowth. On the other hand, for some at least, much of what is produced under capitalism (negative ecological impacts notwithstanding) also contributes to human health and wellbeing. This is particularly true of the many materials on which modern societies have come to depend (e.g. plastics, steel, paper). Although the capitalist system produces such materials to excess, this does not necessarily mean that a degrowth society would eschew them altogether. Let us take the example of plastics. The global petrochemicals industry is heavily invested (financially, emotionally, culturally) in producing more and more plastic each year. Indeed, the competitive nature of this market means that petrochemicals companies must continually expand production to survive. The terrible consequences of this situation can be found in the world’s oceans. However, it is also true that many forms of lifesaving medical equipment are also made from plastics (e.g. renal dialysis equipment, feeding tubes, heart valves). Assuming instances where no suitable substitutes are forthcoming, this paper tentatively suggests that should any democratic degrowth society decide to make limited use of plastics (or any other material for that matter), for the sake of the planet and future generations, production would need to be organised outside of the capitalist marketplace. Plastics in a degrowth society? Perhaps. A profitable plastics industry? Most definitely not! This then raises the question of what form(s) of political/institutional organisation would be required to oversee the production and distribution of materials in a degrowth society. The situation is further complicated by the fact that natural resources are not distributed evenly across the globe.
Start time: 11:30
Track: Material Production (e.g. food, plastics, steel, paper)