03/01/2013 10:39 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Think Beyond Plastic: Where Do We Go From Here?

We've reached a plastic fork in the road; the choice we make, the direction we turn, and the path we follow, will determine our environmental journey and the ultimate fate of our planet, along with those who will inherit it -- our children, the next generation.

When I think about where my generation has come from, I'm reminded of a young President of the United States who understood the challenges that were not only facing our nation, but our planet as well. President John F. Kennedy said, "If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred."

If you have never heard President Kennedy's speech at Rice University on Sept. 12, 1962, then take a few minutes to do so. If you remember it, listen to it again; share it with your children, your family and friends. We all need to be reminded who we are as people, how far we've come as a society, and where we still need to go as a planet.

The words that day electrified our nation and inspired a once younger generation to send a man to the moon and back. But along the way, the scientific industrial complex also found lots and lots and lots of uses for plastic.

While plastic has given us many breakthrough products and uses that have enriched our lives, it has also led to a single-use throw away mentality that finds us buried under an unsustainable and unbearable burden of plastic pollution today.

We have become a society of convenience and exploited plastic without regard for the impact on our environment. We take for granted the fragile balance of earth, air and ocean that serves as our life support system. But what do we do to support it in return?

We need to remember that every piece of plastic ever produced on this tiny blue planet of ours remains in our environment forever; it won't go away, it will outlive us and the Earth, or what will be left of our little planet, if we don't change our ways.

The plastic generation has grown older, and as it has, we have become apathetic and lost the once bright promise of Camelot and the "we can do anything attitude" that President Kennedy spoke of that September day at Rice University.

I believe that promise still lives, and I believe the Plastic Pollution Coalition has a great idea and an opportunity to capture another moment in history that will be looked back upon by generations to come as a turning point every bit as significant as sending a man to the Moon -- finding environmentally sustainable alternatives to plastic.

If we act responsibly now, and choose the high road while we still can, we won't have to regret, for the sake our children and grandchildren and their children too, the path not taken.

The Think Beyond Plastic Innovation Competition is an amazing opportunity to rejuvenate the human ingenuity and creativity we are capable of, and to spark a new revolution that takes us far beyond plastic and its limitations.

Think Beyond Plastic is a contest for entrepreneurs working on products, services, materials and infrastructure solutions that result in a measurable reduction in plastic pollution.

According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition:

"All ideas must be able to lead to solutions at scale and qualified participants must have a well-articulated idea or operating business that is seed or early-stage. Businesses must have a viable business proposition, as well as sustainable business practices. Eligible contestants will compete for a first prize investment of $50,000 for an existing business, and $10,000 investment for the most innovative business idea."

Applications are now open but don't wait, you need to act fast, the deadline for submitting is March 10, 2013. Finalists and winners will be announced during the Think Beyond Plastic event on June 13-14, 2013 at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, Calif.

Earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old and modern plastics as we know them have only been around in last 100 years. Are we really supposed to believe that there is nothing better than plastic; that the science and scientists of the last 100 years have already discovered all there is to discover, invented all there is to invent, and that plastic is the answer?

I don't buy it and you shouldn't either!

We have to believe that amazing new materials and products await us. All we need to do is imagine them; to use our minds, to turn our head slightly for a different perspective and to blink our eyes and break the stare and plastic fixation once and for all. Then, and only then, will the wonders of our universe really come within our reach

Think beyond plastic, listen to President Kennedy's words and become inspired once more -- not to conquer space -- but to free ourselves from a dependence on single-use plastics. Let's set out on a bold new endeavor, not to launch man off of our planet, but to establish man as an inseparable part of the planet. Only then will we be able to save both our planet and ourselves.