Children are born into a plastic way of life – plastic is now the normality. Older generations know differently. I remember glass milk bottles on the doorstep, delivered every morning by a local milkman. I don’t recall much more than that, but the next generation up will. They’ll remember paper bags, reusable nappies, glass bottles you took to the shop to refill. Plastic, especially the one-use disposable items is now a global threat to the planet, and the threat is only escalating. Our children grow up taking plastic for granted, with no education into the problems it creates. If our youngest generations aren’t made aware of this environmental and health issue we’re never going to get a handle on it.
Disposable life style
Believe it or not, we produce almost 300 million tonnes of plastic each year. It has nowhere to go, other than into our oceans or landfill sites to cause endless years of chemical leaching, marine devastation and more. We’ve all seen those horrendous images of albatross carcasses full of plastic, or seals, whales and dolphins with plastic rubbish wrapped around their bodies. So why aren’t we doing something about it? Plastic producers are still churning out hazardous plastic packaging every day, tonnes of the stuff – despite knowing full well that it doesn’t go anywhere. Our plastic isn’t disposable, degradable or even fully recyclable. Once we’ve made it and let it loose into the world it’ll be there for life, a life much longer than yours or mine. How ironic that we use the least disposable material for our daily disposable items, coffee cups, plates, knives, forks, bottles – the one-use list is never ending.
Plastic terrifies me, it has to be one of the biggest issues facing environmental and human health right now and yet we can’t get it away from it. Plastic is everywhere, just look around and count how many plastic items you can see from wherever you’re sitting. In America around 50 billion ‘one-use’ plastic water bottles are used per year, and thats only for water! Add on the coke, pepsi and multitude of plastic bottled soft drinks consumed just as often! We’re now paying more for bottled water than we pay for fuel, yet we guzzle it with complete ignorance. This bottled water is usually the same we’d get straight from our tap, only with the added negative of harmful, leaching chemicals used in the plastic, and often particularly in America the added wide ranging impacts when the bottled water companies move in and simply take local water.
I began looking into my life of plastic in 2015 after watching an inspiring and rather horrific TED talk. Angered, I watched more talks online and came across Beth Terry talking about her plastic free life. Her determination to remove plastic entirely from her life was brilliant and refreshing, see her website here http://myplasticfreelife.com/about-me/.
So, whilst reading her book Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too I took the “Plastic Challenge” for one week – collecting and recording all of my plastic waste over the course of seven days. This was illuminating, and once again fairly terrifying, as is Beth Terry’s great book. Plastic use is enormous and the more you think the more you realise just how much we rely upon it.
My Plastic Challenge (13th-20th July 2015)
You can see the plastic I accumulated in just one week (admittedly late in writing this post, last July when I took the challenge!). Some of this is easier to avoid, some not so much – especially when living on a rural Scottish island with limited shopping options. Some of the waste seems completely idiotic. Why do CO-OP and many other supermarkets wrap their turnips in plastic? Surely this very tough vegetable has a great, naturally protecting skin? Plastic windows set in the paper, just so you can see the fresh baked bread you want to buy. Or how about a plastic window in the cardboard box of lasagne pasta sheets? They’re just so interesting to look at!
2x milk cartons
1x cordial bottle
1x bleach bottle
2x shampoo bottles
1x washing up liquid bottle
4x plastic packaging bags from online shopping
x9 individual chocolate bar wrappers
x1 chocolate bar outside wrapper
4x biscuit wrappers
x1 bacon carton
x1 plastic yoghurt lid
x1 sticker from LUSH shampoo bar
x1 roast chicken tray and cling film cover
x1 mushroom tray and cling film cover
x1 garlic bread packet
x2 new potato packets
x1 trimmed leek packet
x1 small lunch steak pie packet
x1 turnip wrapper
x1 plastic window from fresh coop bread
To change the current reliance on plastic people need to speak up and do something about it themselves. Unless the consumers change, the huge plastic churning and plastic packaging companies won’t. Marine conservation bodies are doing their bit, as the ocean stands to suffer the most but if more of us don’t wake up to the issue now we’ll be stuck in this plastic life cycle.
Our children need to be educated with regard to plastic, they need to see that better alternatives exist and they need to understand that recycling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Schools are brilliant these days – they compost and recycle and they have ‘turn of the light’ signs everywhere. Of course doing this is better than not, but recycling plastic waste isn’t the answer; most plastics can only be recycled once or twice before they end up in landfill or in the ocean. We’re growing a whole new army of people that see plastic as a commodity and we really need to change that early on.
This is our global plastic challenge.