Tony Fadell, iPod inventor, iPhone co-inventor, Nest founder and Future Shape principal, is on a warpath against plastics.
“Anyone that says plastics are a waste management problem is lying,” Fadell said during a fiery presentation at Fortune’s Global Sustainability Forum that riled against commonly proposed solutions to the plastic crisis, such as recycling, incineration, and bioplastics. It was a stark contrast and a veiled challenge to the message offered by Dow Chemical CEO Jim Fitterling earlier in the day, who argued the opposite.
For Fadell, plastics are fundamentally flawed because the material never really disappears. Instead, plastics break down into small pellets, called micro-plastics, which enter the food-chain and wind up inside humans.
“It’s in your body, it’s soaking up toxins now and they’re going into your bloodstream without a doubt,” Fadell said.
It’s true enough that micro-plastics have entered our food chain, though whether micro-plastics are harmful to our health hasn’t been determined yet. The World Health Organization just recently called for more research to be done on the matter, but Fadell argues we shouldn’t wait to find out.
“We don’t know if it’s bad, but we said the same thing about smoking,” Fadell says. Thankfully, Fadell, a user experience designer by trade, comes with solutions as well. One of his proposals is to make recycling more consumer-friendly so that, rather than compelling the layman to sort their own trash, the process is taken care of for them.
That could mean creating a new, truly biodegradable material that can simply decompose in the landfill or, should it end up there, the ocean. Importantly, it puts the onus on businesses rather than consumers to find solutions to this problem.
However, governments have a vital role to play too. Cities across the U.S. discovered how inept their own recycling initiatives are earlier this year when China, through an environmental policy called Green Sword, banned the import of foreign waste, spurring neighboring Asian nations to follow suit. Waste began piling up in U.S. cities that suddenly had no place to ship it to. The upshot: those cities now need to develop more comprehensive management—or, even, prevention—policies.
“Thank you, China,” Fadell said to a chuckling crowd. “We’ve been hiding this problem for way too long…Thank you, because you’re making us wake up to the reality of the trash that we create everyday.”
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