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  • Stevie Bee

Plastic by the numbers

Updated: Jan 4

Mountains of plastic in The Maldives

Mountains of plastic washed up on idyllic honeymoon islands in The Maldives
Photo: Caters News Agency

Like our birthdays, phone numbers, street addresses, car number plates, credit card numbers — even the number of the train carriage we get into — every word also tells a story. One of the top trending words of the moment has to be plastic. It's on everyone’s lips! So, what’s ‘plastic’ all about, from the perspective of numerology?

Well, the message of the word ‘plastic’ has two parts to it. First up: the purpose of plastic, what it means, its karma, if you will. Second, how does it express itself, what is its ‘personality’ — if plastic, an inanimate object, can have a personality!

If plastic were human, it would be depicted as “a good person, blinded by the folly of others, with a knapsack on his or her back, full of errors.” So, to translate: plastic represents a good idea/concept, plagued by misuse or abuse, and full of problems. It also warns us to be wary of mistakes in judgement, of placing faith in that which cannot be trusted. Continuing with the analogy, it is akin to a person “who offers no defence against a ferocious tiger that’s about to attack him/her.” Plastic represents the classic illusion-delusion paradigm, much like “living in a fool’s paradise, as a dreamer of dreams who awakens only when surrounded by danger, when it’s often too late.” Plastic is also a burden; indeed, if ‘plastic’ were a day of the month, it would, in numerology, be The Day of Burdens.

Fortunately, plastic also reveals how to work with it. For starters, it is a reminder to exercise caution and to submit to a higher calling or purpose, which, I argue, suggests plastic should be used far more rarely, when just about nothing else will do the job. It should definitely not to be discarded after one use. And, it suggests we need to be more alert. We should never think this miracle material is just all good news. It requires of us to realise we have the power to change things, and when “responsibility is recognised, practised, and finally mastered, and [we are] no longer blinded by the folly of others, plans will be achieved and dreams realised.” People are asked to take responsibility, to get on top of the problem and master it, which would, I argue, mean using plastic more wisely.

Secondly, plastic expresses itself as originality, inventiveness, tolerance, the unconventional, unexpected change, genius. Plastic is all of that: novel, inventive, clever, for sure. Plastic has long been hailed as a good idea, lauded for its strength, lightweightedness, flexibility, usefulness, durability, and price, that is, cheap*. And with a thousand and one uses. Its trajectory has not been conventional; it’s not like other resources, for example, wood, glass, steel and aluminium, all of which are limited in utility when compared to plastic.

For decades our complacency has grown, just as the gyres of plastic in the ocean have. But the tiger is stalking us. And it is well past time to be alert, to pay attention — and to act.

*It’s only ‘cheap’ when you don’t take the true cost of plastic into account, though, and ignore those monumentally pesky externalities: the environment and health, to name two.

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