Reuse, more than recycling: the creative world has mobilized against the abuse and misuse of plastic. But for real change to happen, we need environmental education, starting in early childhood

* Rossana Orlandi, gallerist and talent scout

I’m not against plastic. It’s not plastic’s fault. The problem is one of abuse and misuse: excessive production and behaviors that harm the environment. As always, harm is not intrinsic to things, but to how we use them.

In the case of plastic, we should remember that its success is due to a simple reality: it is an extraordinary material with characteristics that are hard to replace. Plastic is inexpensive, it lasts forever, and it has a fundamental role in certain sectors (think medicine and hospitals, in the spotlight in recent months). But – the other side of the coin is a heavy one – if it is not suitably disposed of it can cause disaster.

I am a meddler by character: if there’s a problem I do something to find a solution. A few years ago, I asked myself what I could do – with my expertise in the field of design and art – to tackle this gigantic problem. My answer was to ask a group of designers to concentrate on reuse of plastic and to demonstrate that it can be given a second life.

My first project was called Senso di Colpa (Feeling Guilty) and its aim was to raise awareness among design lovers (and others) on the theme of reuse and recycling of plastic. I wanted to transform a scenario of ecological disaster into a creative opportunity, giving rise to furniture with unique design made by converting plastic. Because – and we all know this by now – reuse is much better than recycling.

In 2019 the project became Guiltlessplastic. In this case I invented a prize, permitting creative talents from all over the world to come to terms with a project that would demonstrate the possibility of reusing plastic. The Ro Plastic Prize gathered over 300 candidates from 50 countries, discovering young talents. We also organized an encounter (Ro Ring) and an exhibition (Ro Plastic-Master’s Pieces) at the Museo della Scienza e delle Tecnica Leonardo da Vinci. The exhibition of one-offs created by salvaging plastic gave a second life to a material that causes major pollution if it is not properly handled. If it is approached with knowledge, using its virtues, it can be shifted into surprising applications.

This year Ro Guiltnessplastic 2020 set out to raise the level of the challenge, getting beyond the main theme and approaching the concept of the circular economy. Obviously, the pandemic stopped everything, but we will continue to try to stimulate concrete actions and dialogue, to change unhealthy, widespread everyday habits.

The industry is responding in a positive way: but to truly change, we need environmental education that starts in early childhood. Education about sustainable growth, after all, touches all aspects of life and shared values of equality and respect for others, for future generations, for diversity, the environment and the resources of the planet.

As Andy Warhol said: “I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anyone could ever want.”