In the light of sudden interest in the plastic debate I felt it was time to revisit my thoughts on plastic disposables and packaging. For the last 20 months I have been boycotting plastic items and sourcing sustainable alternatives. My reasons were pretty simple – a gut reaction to all the rubbish I saw around me. But along the way I have had to think about all sorts of other things – composting- growing your own- waste management – to name but a few. In light of all this additional information my rules have devleped. Heres an update.
Plastic is cheap, easily formed, light, easily transportable and incredibly useful and is used for just about everything. Especially as throwaway packaging.
As such allows us access to a marvellous array of products at a price we can afford.
It is in fact a huge advance on conventional forms of packaging- the heavy glass, the resource hungry and easily ripped paper and expensive steel.
As with all forms of packaging has freed us, especially us women, from the need to make everything from home grown root vegetables yanked from the ground and cooked for days.
What’s not to like?
Plastic doesn’t biodegrade;
It cant go on the compost heap like paper and be transformed by the magic of nature into plant food.
It can’t rust away like a tin can its small rusty parts going to sustain the next generation of trees.
Plastic is always plastic. It might over time break into smaller pieces but those pieces are not absorbed into the natural cycles.
Throw it in the sea it will float around for ever – unless it chokes a marine mammal.
Bury it in the ground and it will sit there for millennia and we are running out of landfill space.
Getting rid of plastic is a specialist operation involving either burning or recycling.
Plastic can be easily recycled. That is one of its wonderful features. It can be used over and over again but recycling has to be well organised and depends on a well educated conscientious user group who are prepared to wash and sort their rubbish. Well there’s the first problem. It also requires a recycling plant. So while recycling is part of the solution it does not make plastic disposable products acceptable.
If plastic, throw away items just get thrown away and not recycled or burnt, they are with us forever. Not surprisingly plastic litter is on the increase. Already the problems of plastic pollution are enormous – if we don’t stop producing so much rubbish we are going to be in big kahuna – and I mean really soon.
Recycling might be fine for countries that can provide or afford a recycling service – not so great for those that don’t have the waste removal facilities to deal with it. Plastic pollution in countries like India and Africa is really horrendous. Can I drink Cola from a plastic bottle because we can dispose of the bottle but insist it cant be sold that way in Africa because they cant? I don’t think so. My only real option is to challenge selling Cola in plastic bottles world wide which I do by way of boycott.
Just an aside but it used to be that Cola collected their glass bottles and reused them. In fact they paid you for bringing them back. Now they don’t have to bother. The cost of clearing up coke bottles falls on local government and on me the tax payer. Well b=33=cks to that.
Promoting the use of recycling maintains the idea that this is a easily disposed of product. There is no such thing as a throw away product and nor should there be. A product such as a sturdy plastic bottle which can be used again should be used again. Refill rather than recycle is my mantra. I am more than happy to have my plastic bottle refilled with Ecover toilet cleaner.
But even though it can be recycled most plastic actually is not. It’s not yet cost effective. What is collected for recycling depends where you live. Kirklees will only collect bottles and of course the supermarkets collect bags.
The other option is burning. Burning waste is a problematic issue which requires large specialist equipment for it to be done safely. Yes plastic can be burnt and the heat generated used productively … but .. plastic comes from oil. As such it is finite resource. When you think just how useful plastic is, should we be burning it. I would have thought computer keyboards or recycled, non-rotting sea side board walks might be a better option.
Whether burning or recycling some one else has to do it at specially built locations sometimes miles if not nations away. I want to take responsibility for my own rubbish . I don’t want to produce bin loads that have to be shipped off and disposed of by some one else. Should the bin men go on strike or the basis of society crumble I want to be reasonably self reliant. Taking control of my own waste disposal is one way I can do that. But for that to be possible I need waste I can dispose of myself. I don’t think burning plastic in my barbeque will endear me to the neighbours and as for recycling – enough said. On the other hand with a worm bin and a compost bin I can recycle my own biodegradable waste into compost which I use to grow bumper tomatoes.
So I try to avoid buying products that comes in packaging that needs to go elsewhere to be recycled – that goes for glass too. I think its such a waste that perfectly good bottles have to be recycled when they could be reused.
But there is a list of preferences I prefer glass packaging for food and drink to plastic because while, like plastic it is with us forever, glass vessels it can be sterilised and reused. Hopefully one day they will be as the norm. I mean why can’t we bottle wine in this country in reused bottles? Bring it in in a big tank and bottle it here. Is that a bonkers idea? But I digress.
I prefer tins to plastic or tetra packs because I know that the recycling rates are so much better, the plants so much closer and it will if the worst were to happen and it ends up in the sea it will biodegrade.
But I try to avoid any packaging that has to be recycled before they can be reused. Obviously it is not always possible – I eat jam out of glass jars, I buy tinned sardines and I have to buy some plastic wrapped products. But then I don’t have the time to make everything I need myself, I cant wean my husband off them and it is impossible to buy salt in plastic free packaging – at least round our way. .
So try to limit what I buy to what I consider essential. Obviously my idea of what is essential is open to debate – I am certainly not an ascetic rather the opposite – but I do love the environment and would hate to see it damaged beyond repair. In short m my aim is not to give up the things I like but enjoy them in a sustainable way.
I do believe that if we aren’t too greedy or stupid we could all live a good life on this wonderful planet. Though again my interpretation of greedy and stupid is again debateable.
Which is why I decided to post my actions on the internet.
These are my plastic refusenik rules and I buy products that meet these criteria;
1 – avoid making rubbish in the first place
By not buying heavily packaged goods
Shunning unnecessary throwaway products.
2 – to deal with my own rubbish
Which means I have to choose products that come in biodegradable packaging
3 – choose products that can be recycled
Pretty much as it sounds but also I will buy recycled products to help create a market.
4 – to find out more about plastic
There are indications that plastic packaging might not be good for you. Reports consistantly suggest that unhealthy plastic chemicals leach from the wrapper into the product.