As the owner of SSD Designs, I am often asked, “Why did you get into this business?” To which I reply, “To save the world, of course!”
That might seem like a silly response but, I truly did think I was doing something special when I was hired out of college to be in recycling. It seemed like such a noble career and I felt I was really doing something important.
Fast forward decades later, my 10 year old niece asked me a few months ago…
“Aunt Sara, what do you do for work? I am writing a report on different types of jobs.”
I, was all too happy to explain what contributions I felt I was making to the next generation in recycling. So, beaming with pride, I showed her our website and explained each of the things we do, in detail to help make impact.
She looked at me with deep thought, and what she said next SHOCKED me!
“Too bad, we don’t have any plastics you can recycle in our house Aunt Sara.” ...My mouth dropped open!! I couldn’t believe that she didn’t know how much plastic was all around her.
With passion in my voice, (and still in a little disbelief), I then proceeded to explain how she was covered from head to toe in plastics.
“You are wearing many things that are made from plastics right now. You have on a nylon headband. You are wearing a polyester dress. Your sporting acrylic nail polish on your toes. Oh yes, and in your hand, you are holding a polypropylene cup. All of these big names I just mentioned are different types of plastic.”
Now it was her turn for her mouth to drop open!
In the most genuine way, with eyes curiously awaiting my response she said, “What did we do before plastics?”
In a sigh of relief knowing that she understood, and that she really wanted to learn more I said, “THAT is a good question! The world was a very different place. People died much younger than they do today. In fact, we are globally connected today because of things that are made out of plastics, because plastics make things like computers, planes and cellphones.
Things that used to be a really big deal have become manageable because of this innovation. Lifesaving vaccines and food couldn’t be transported and made in large numbers before plastics. Medicines for your body, like those that help you not be sick anymore, and even medical support like prosthetic legs, are possible because of plastics.
Even small things that many of us take for granted like the clothes we wear, and colors of paint, which give infinite variations of expression are made from plastics. Did you know, paint used to take ages to make, and only the very rich could afford it?
Cars killed people when they got into accidents, because the metal didn’t absorb the shock of the impact like they do today, because plastics have been made to take the impact away from the passengers. I mean, what a cool lifesaving invention that was!
These are just a few ways that the world has changed for us because of this awesome innovation we call "Plastics". ”
My niece and I talked for another hour about some of the exciting new things being invented today and how little we still know about plastics capabilities. The conversation was enlightening for us both. My surprise was in trying to understand why young people are not being taught these things that have changed the world so much. Her surprise and amazement was for trying to understand a past and possible future that has been ignored in her education.
I never asked her what she ended up writing about in her report after our talk... but, I hope that one day when she grows up she will find something to do that will make her feel like what she is doing is saving the world too, in her own super hero kind of way.