By Cal Major
It’s not just plastic – we need to shift our entire attitude around Single-Use.
Plastic-free campaigns are taking off all around the country. Individuals and communities alike are making amazing positive steps in their local areas, both reducing the amount of single-use plastic used in the community, and organising clean-ups. It’s absolutely wonderful to see, and so reassuring that together we are actually starting to get our teeth into this enormous problem!
The beauty of the plastic pollution crisis, (if you can humour me for a minute by suggesting there is something good about it!) is that people can see it. They can see, touch and even pick up a piece of plastic littering the beach they love, and endangering the wildlife in the place they play or breathe. Beach cleans are so wonderful at helping people to connect the dots between what they’re using and what is ending up on beaches. People are angry at the pictures of it killing marine life, and being able to actually see and feel it is cutting through the apathy that campaigns on some environmental crises seem to come up against.
So people are dutifully switching from single use plastic all around the country, whatever the cost.
But perhaps this isn’t the only answer…
Plastic itself is an incredibly clever invention – durable, lightweight and tough. It has enabled us to create cars with a lower carbon footprint, advance medical and research techniques, and fly around the world (controversial!).
However, single-use plastic is a very dangerous product. It’s used once, for a very short period of time, before it is no longer deemed useful, or to have any value. It can usually be recycled, but sometimes not very easily, and only a finite number of times before the polymers are no longer useful for that product.
Plastic is particularly troublesome in that it releases harmful chemicals, endocrine disruptors and even carcinogens. It entangles wildlife, and once ingested can cause animals to starve.
But this it isn’t just about plastic. This is about our throwaway culture. It’s about the way we see the planet as separate to us; an infinite resource to be exploited, rather than our life force to cherish, a part of us and our health. It’s about our perceived entitlement to ease and convenience, and our lack of respect for the materials that we’re using. Whether that’s plastic with its aforementioned draw-backs, metal which has to be mined from the ground, often causing terrible ecological damage, or glass which is heavy to transport, emitting masses of CO2.
In terms of the long term effects of plastic in our environment, materials such as paper, glass, and compostable materials are clearly preferable; they don’t have the toxic by-products, don’t use crude oil to be made, and usually degrade much quicker, causing less harm to wildlife. But there is still an environmental impact of using ANYTHING, whether that’s the energy needed to produce and ship it, or the deforestation that comes with unsustainable forestry for paper. This feels particularly poignant if it’s something we just don’t need.
Perhaps there’s another way. Perhaps instead of just demonising plastic, and thinking that switching to any alternative means we have ticked the box, can we reassess our own attitudes towards our lifestyles, consumption and usage, and consider carefully what the other options might be? Can we just start by reducing the things we don’t need, and finding reusable alternatives to those we do?
Living with less plastic shouldn’t be about having to buy loads of new products to enable you to do so, it should start with using less, and seeing how freeing it is to be pushing back on the unchecked consumption that has led us to where we are.
I do think this is happening to some degree, and truly believe that more conscious consumerism has been a valuable side-effect of the nationwide plastic campaigns. I would encourage you to continue to think carefully and connectedly about the choices you make, and please have conversations about it too!
I’d love to hear your thoughts.