Ever worried about not making your mark on the world? Think you might not leave anything behind you when you go? Don’t – I can assure you that everyday in every way you are making a lasting impression. I realised just how big my own everlasting monument would be when I decided, back in October 2006, to record my own plastic consumption.
I began saving all the disposable plastic that passed through my hands. A sobering 7 days later and I was running out of cupboard space. Leave only footprints? – Not bloody likely! I will be leaving an enormous pile of rubbish with a thousand year lifespan to commemorate my 3 score years and ten on this fragile globe.
Having realised the plastic problem what’s a girl to do? In this capitalist paradise consumer pressure has massive leverage – reduce demand and supply will follow. The best answer seemed to be to take direct action and boycott the filthy stuff.
On studying my mighty pile, I realised that an immediate boycott would have some very unpleasant results – dirty, rotten teeth, bad body odour and hair thick with grease would occur within the first few days Followed by scurvy, rickets and ultimate starvation. Plastic has become so much part of our lives it is hard it seems to live without it. So I decided to modify my plan. Each month I would study my heap and decide to eliminate one thing. I would research for a non plastic wrapped substitute and replace the bad and ugly with the good. Rather than an immediate ban we would tackle the problem one wrapper at a time.
In January 2007 we launched our 12 steps program for a cleaner planet. We called it that because a) we were giving up plastic..and b) we thought it would take 12 months. Years on and we are still finding new plastic to cut.
Why we don’t recycle either….
When I started this blog, plastic recycling was a small affair. Few councils collected and when they did it was only certain plastics. However since public awareness of plastic problems has grown it seems we can now recycle everything and are praised and applauded for doing so.
Problem solved back to eating crisps… hooray!
Not so. Let’s be clear about this recycling is just a more responsible form of waste management. That stuff in your recycle bin is still rubbish and has to be dealt with the attendant environmental and financial costs. While recycling may offset these costs it is still expensive.
Moreover recycling does not address the main issue of misusing plastic and stupidly using it to make one use throwaway items.
Because most plastics do not biodegrade plastic lasts for a long time possibly for ever. It cannot be composted or left to rot where it is dropped or dumped like organic rubbish. Every bit of plastic rubbish has to be collected up and specially disposed of. Inevitably some plastic trash ends up as litter. Because it doesn’t rot, once it is out there it is out for ever. Hardly surprising then that plastic litter is increasing exponentially with dreadful consequences. Not only does it look ugly, it is damaging the environment, polluting the sea, choking up drains and maiming and killing animals.
Anyone who uses plastic disposables, (which is everyone), is deliberately, accidentally or through ignorance guilty of improperly discarding them at some point. Think of the plastic seal on the water bottle that blows out of your hand, the toddler dropping sweet wrappers or even that tea bag you put on the compost heap. Huge amounts of plastic disposables escape out into the environment on a daily basis.
And not just onto the streets and into the trees. Scientists are findings increasing amounts of plastic in the sea and soil and animals they support. Our discarded plastic is changing the environment in fundamental and irreversible ways.
Who Is Responsible
The plastics industry say end users should behave more responsibly, stop littering and start recycling more. To dispose of plastic properly the end user needs to be able finance an expensive system of specialized plastic treatment plants and organize regular rubbish collections. As many people still don’t have access to clean water that’s not going to happen globally any time soon.
Then they need to know the difference between what is compostable and what looks as though it is and yes teabags do contain plastic. Then they need to research and find the plastic in the most unlikely places (tampons, toothpaste, chewing gum and lots more sneaky plastics) and then dispose of it “properly”. Recycled tampons anyone?
We are not anti recycling. We use long lasting multi use plastic and believe it should be recycled at the end of its life. But recycling should only be used occasionally as an end of life treatment not as a regular method of waste disposal.
Dealing With My Own Rubbish
The only regular, sustainable methods of waste disposal are composting and carbon nuetral burning. Disposable plastics fall into neither of these categories. We want to be able to deal with most of our waste ourselves. If it cant be reused, composted or burnt we don’t care for it. We want no trash in our black bin and no trash in our recycle bin.
Cutting plastic and sourcing compostable alternatives means we are almost there.
And check out the campaign for real litter…