Jumpstarting the New Normal: Return to Better

We are in a once-in-a-generation moment. And there are things that are more important than plastic pollution right now - like saving lives, saving the economy, and dismantling systemic racism. 

Except really, all of these issues are connected - and we can respond to them in ways that help create the future we want to live in. We CAN have a future with a strong, equitable, and just economy that reduces climate impacts and plastic pollution.

The current crises are showing us that widespread rapid change is possible. So many of the stories that we used to make sense of the world have either broken down or been exposed as no longer true.

One of the biggest stories that has been erased is “You can’t stop business as usual.” As my friends Brian Fitzgerald and Tommy Crawford, from Dancing Fox, recently said on our podcast

COVID has revealed how interconnected we all are, how responsible we are for each other’s well being... and how every choice matters.

I heard something that really moved me recently, which was, “Don’t look out at these empty streets as signs of the apocalypse. They are signs and testaments to how much we love each other.”

In the last few months, look how quickly Americans have responded to what’s happening in our country. How the message of “it’s not enough to not be racist, we must be anti-racist” has finally started to hit home with people across America. This moment, while at times disruptive, disheartening and devastating, can actually bode well for social and environmental change movements. 

With plastic pollution, the public’s concern has not disappeared; it's just taken a back seat for the moment. And that’s OK, because now we’re seeing - in technicolor - that the old systems for getting us what we want and need aren’t working:

  1. That global supply chains for necessities can be easily disrupted.
  1. That recycling is not going to save us. Recycling programs are shuttering everywhere. 
  1. That disaster capitalists are going to attempt to exploit crises to push their products, roll-back environmental regulations, and bail out their broken industries. 
  1. That disposable packaging still sucks, and many of us are dealing with more of it. People who didn’t used to have groceries or takeout food delivered are now coming to terms with how much unwanted single-use packaging is associated with it. 

One of the dominant stories that has allowed plastic pollution to flourish is this idea that “business as usual” demands convenience above all other considerations. 

But COVID is changing all that. If we’re sufficiently concerned for each other’s well-being and the planet, we can change business as usual. We can shift engrained norms of behavior in very short periods of time given the proper motivation. You may have seen the survey in the UK that showed only nine per cent of Britons want to return to life as normal after the end of the lockdown - and we get the sense they’re not the only ones. While not fair trades for the devastation COVID is wreaking, things like cleaner air, more wildlife, a stronger sense of community, and being more in touch with friends and family - have brought many to realize what we have been missing, and what is still possible. 

So we know there are opportunities to ideate and create better ways than the throw-away lifestyle built on fast, distracted, busy living and the convenience it supposedly demands. To tap into the slower, more interconnected, more localized way of living that has emerged. To engage with efforts to rebuild communities, support struggling businesses, dismantle racism, and community resilience. 

And we can take steps now - both with decision-makers in our sphere of influence, and within our communities - as individuals, businesses and organizations - to create conversations about how this moment opens up possibilities to reject what isn’t working and to build something better in its place.