To solve our climate crisis, there’s no doubt that we need to change the way we create—and dispose—of everyday things. Nonrenewable fossil fuels are used to make a nearly endless list of items, from plastic forks to styrofoam packaging to synthetic fabrics to steel and concrete. Not only do these products require limited resources and significant amounts of energy to produce, they can be nearly impossible to get rid of. Our recycling system is inadequate, these materials take thousands of years to break down, and so our planet continues to fill up with trash.
As a solution, plant-based items and biomaterials have flooded the market. Companies are creating shoes and cellphone cases, cutlery and to-go containers, and even entire buildings out of plants. On paper, it sounds like the answer. But can making everything plant-based really save us from climate catastrophe? The answer is a bit more complicated than making sure everyone chooses a compostable fork over a plastic one.
The wave of plant-based products is a necessary transition, says Mathis Wackernagel, founder and president of Global Footprint Network. “There is no other future than a regenerative future, whether we like it or not,” he says. “Everything has to be plant-based in the end.”
“As we go out of carbon, we will put much much more demand on the rest of the planet,” Wackernagel says. “There’s not an abundance of plant matter we can just tap into.” Experts are already concerned about how we can adequately feed our growing population, especially if we can grow enough fruits and vegetables for everyone.