Aspiring to be an environmentalist in the modern world.

A personal war on plastic

A personal war on plastic

Plastic is brilliant. It’s waterproof, durable, light, and can be made perfectly clear making it the ultimate packaging material. It’s also dangerous. It floats in the ocean and gets eaten by marine life. By breaking down into micro particles it accumulates in the smallest organisms. As seen tragically on Blue Planet II, it can build up in food chains to the point where top predators like dolphins are now producing milk that is toxic to their own calves. The impact on human health is also little understood.

Estimates for the amount of plastic in our oceans are difficult, however in 2015 alone about 8 million tonnes entered the water, enough to cover every metre of coastline on Earth.

Stopping the use of plastics seems impossible. Ubiquitous in every day life, plastic is in  our clothes, money, our technology, and covers almost everything we buy. Avoiding it completely would mean living on some sort of smallholding, weaving our own clothes and reading by the fire every night. Idyllic potentially but also a life that is out of reach, unrealistic and let’s be honest, not wanted by most of us.

So I’m going to focus on the worst culprits. The polymers that are difficult to re-use and we can’t recycle. There are plenty of ways of doing this:

Most of these are simple to follow and I’ve adopted them into my every day life. It’s number 6 that gets me. Let’s say I was to refuse to buy any food that had any non-recyclable plastic as part of it’s packaging. A trip to our current supermarket would mean foregoing: most fresh and all frozen fruit and veg, all meat, fish and meat alternatives, pasta, rice, bread, cous cous, yoghurt, cheese, nuts and any pre-prepared meals. As much as a diet purely of pesto, tinned tuna, olives and eggs could be fun for a while I’m not convinced this is something I could maintain for long as the lazy eco warrior I am. My hunt for a sustainable, convenient, eco-friendly shop that’s open outside 9-5 continues.

It leaves me feeling pretty hopeless. I’d like to not buy this stuff but I’m not left with much choice as a buyer. All of the focus seems to be on what we can achieve as individuals. I’m passionate about using the very little consumer power I have for good, but when are large corporations going to be forced to make a change? As Martin Lukacs puts it  “While we busy ourselves greening our personal lives, fossil fuel corporations are rendering these efforts irrelevant.”

The drive to make a small difference can be easily overwhelmed by the sense of how ineffective my efforts will be overall. In the end though, the only person I need to answer to in the end is me. So if doing my recycling and taking my eco water bottle around with me makes me happy, I will continue, if only to know that I am living in a way that means I can look those fish in the eyes without feeling ashamed.

4 responses to “A personal war on plastic”

  1. I try to do a lot of the above that you try to do. However, I have thought for a long time now that we (as a country) ought to be not just recycling plastic bottles and containers but collecting them, washing them and re-using them again. I suspect that it might be more expensive to do this but, in the long run, we need to think of the costs to the environment as well and I am sure this would be much better for us and the world around us.

    • The main issue with re-use like that is that it’s incredibly difficult, and often impossible to do so whilst keeping the bottles hygienic. Plastic absorbs a lot and it’s not possible to subject it to the temperatures needed to sterilise it adequately without it melting. So reducing our use of it is the best way forwards. I do think a deposit return scheme to encourage people to give bottles back would help though so that recycling rates would increase.

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