By Clemens Schally
As an enlightened, educated student of a good, Western European University, you are without a doubt aware of the acute ecological crisis our planet is facing. While global capitalism might try to convince you that a futuristic ‘green-economy’, in which everything you consume is ‘50% recycled’ or ‘20% more fuel efficient’, is the solution, it takes little more than common sense and a bit of critical thinking to recognise that this is nothing other than moral relief for rich people rather than a sustainable solution for a dire and imminent situation. Summarised in a nutshell, the brand of capitalism we are living every day is simply not able to create sustainable solutions for the future. We cannot combine a sustainable society with an economic system that relies on people consuming more and more, with products getting cheaper and more fragile in order to ensure a higher turnover. Such is consumerism in short.
How does the plastic cup come into this? Think about how you use it. You buy it, you use it, you throw it away. Why? Numerous reasons come to mind when you think about your choice of a plastic cup over a reusable one, but for the most part, it boils down to one factor: convenience – not having to clean it, not having to care for it. Furthermore we associate this very convenience with a hedonistic lifestyle, with fun. Student party culture is embodied by the red plastic cup popularised by American college films.
The plastic cup is thus the perfect symbol for this consumerist ideology, especially since it is so present in our everyday lives and because its life-cycle is shorter than other objects. In a way it is an extreme example of this ideology, only making the point clearer.
What does this have to do with our daily lives? The point is not to just stop using plastic cups. The ecological damage of plastic cups by themselves is a negligible fraction of the total damage. It might even make things worse, since the moral satisfaction of ‘doing your part’ might lead you to compensate in other areas. No, the way forward is to realise that the plastic cup is a symbol which demonstrates the danger of the consumerist decisions we take every day. The point is not to stop using plastic cups, the point is to act according to a system of morals that forbids us to use them.