Recently I’ve been thinking that plastic is just the worst. And somehow, without us realising it we blinked and it was everywhere. In one day I could buy a coffee in the morning with a plastic lid on my way to work. At lunch time maybe I buy a salad in a plastic container from the deli and a bottle of water. On my way home I go to the supermarket and pick up some mushrooms packaged in a plastic tray covered in plastic wrap and some pasta, also in plastic and I put these items in a plastic bag to take home. All of these items of plastic end up in the bin within the week. This is the world we live in and it’s crazy.
For me that is not an average day. I am exaggerating for effect. But it’s not an exaggeration that for many people that could be an average day. 365 days a year of that much plastic and soon you’ve generated enough plastic to make a fully plastic version of yourself several times over. We talk about an overpopulation problem creating real issues for space and resources in the future. We should be talking about an overplastication problem and the fact that we are irreversibly damaging our environment and creating colossal amounts of non-biodegradable waste right now. Sure more people means using more plastic, but if we tackle our use of plastic right now then we will have one less thing to worry about as our world fills up with our children.
All the plastic you have used in your life still exists in the world somewhere.
Think about that for a second.
Maybe it was recycled, maybe it was reused. Most likely it’s now in landfill or in the ocean. That’s where our rubbish goes. It doesn’t disappear after someone comes to take the bins away. There’s no way to get rid of it apart from burning it. And as plastic is a product of petroleum that would mean releasing huge amounts of chemicals and, specifically carbon, into the atmosphere – a complete global warming no no. The only good way we could use plastic would be if we made it completely reusable. But that is just not going to happen. Companies and countries do not have the systems in place to enable a completely reusable life cycle for plastic. Moreover they don’t want to because that would be too expensive. Believe it or not generating huge amounts of the stuff and then dumping it into the earth is actually cheaper than producing a responsible amount for reuse.
But recycling you say? Recycling hardly puts a lid on the problem. Especially when vast amounts of plastic cannot or will not be recycled. Lots of plastic is not recyclable and the stuff that is relies on recycling infrastructure and your local governing body not deciding that recycling is just too expensive. Time and time again we choose the cheapest options and divert the true cost on to our planet and environment.
So what’s to be done when we’re playing within a losing system. We need to start by waking up to the problem. We need to realise that nothing is disposable. Imagine for the rest of your life that you had to keep all the rubbish you produce in a room in your house. Would that change your buying habits drastically? If so then maybe that’s a place to start.
I still buy far too much plastic. We live in a world of convenience and changing your habits is really difficult. It’s easy to forget to bring your own water container or decide to nip to the shops on a whim and realise that you don’t have your own bags. Avoiding plastic when food shopping is like running some kind of gauntlet. But change starts with awareness and at first the momentum it builds can be slow. Soon though change is happening all at once. If we change our spending habits then companies have to change with us. Consumer power is enormous and we are the only ones who can take responsibility for our planet.