Jan 31, 2013
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An evolving understanding of sustainability

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I have been involved in a number of discussions regarding the debatable association of a term such as “sustainable” to something that may in many ways be fluid, such as culture.  By the very nature of the study and work we are engaged in through the MACS program and our own endeavors, we must be open to considering what sustainability means in a variety of circumstances and to different communities.  One of the areas in which I have been challenged to think of new ways to understand sustainability has been in the (re)use of trash, and in particular, plastics.  Of course, I am very familiar with recycling and reuse.  But I have a longstanding hatred of plastic – or perhaps more accurately, the overproduction and careless disposal of it – having regularly seen it swim by me in the sea and swirl around in the streets of nearly every place I’ve lived or visited.

Recently, I have been inspired to think about plastic in new ways.  I am not happy to have so much of it around, nor do I think we need to continue to produce and use it in such mass amounts.  But I am increasingly interested in innovative ways of answering the question: What do we do with the plastic that is already here?  I have seen some creative ways people are putting plastic to use, and wanted to share a couple with you:

Landfill Harmonic: The people of Cateura, a town built on a landfill in Paraguay, are making musical instruments out of materials found in the trash.  Not only are they finding ways to reuse discarded materials, they are breathing new life into their community through music.

Garbage Homes: In Bolivia, where almost half of the population lives below the poverty line, one woman is using two of the only abundant and readily available resources – dirt and plastic bottles – to tackle one of her city’s biggest challenges: housing.  Ingrid Diez is building houses from recycled materials for people in need.

For some time (and with good reason), I have seen plastic as an enemy of the environment, and thus, of sustainability.  But discovering new ways to reuse the plastic that is already around to build homes, make music, and lift spirits certainly has me considering yet another piece of the sustainability puzzle.

Have a great story about how you or someone you know creatively reuses plastics or recycles other materials?  Please share your strategies and stories in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

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Goucher's MA in Cultural Sustainability provides students with the training to identify, protect, enhance and work effectively with communities around what makes them unique: their traditions, ways of life, cherished spaces, and vital relationships to each other and the world. Read More

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