Sunday, 10 August 2008
I read quite a few simplicity and ‘green’ blogs and one thing that I’ve noticed is the number of people who are trying hard to eliminate any kind of plastic from their lives. I guess I must be the odd one out, because I don’t have a problem with plastic per se.
The way I see it is that plastic, polythene and other polymer based substances aren’t necessarily bad things - they have their place in our modern society and I’m perfectly happy to use my plastic watering-can, bucket, food storage boxes, garden trug and other bits and pieces and I realise that my telephone is made mostly of plastic, my laptop contains a good deal of it, as does my fridge and a whole host of other useful items. What I’m not happy with is the way in which so many people treat plastics.
It seems to me that the majority still view plastic as something that’s easily disposable. It’s cheap so they’re not losing much when they open the bin and dump it in. Every day,
Apparently, last year 17.5 billion plastic bags were given away by supermarkets here in the UK, equating to 290 bags per person or more than 5 ½ bags for each of us every single day. What on earth are we doing with all those bags?
Also, of the total amount of plastic produced here - around 4.7 million tonnes of it - 35% was produced for packaging alone! That’s more than 1.6 million tonnes of plastic packaging!
When you consider that only around 7% of that total was actually recycled, it’s no wonder our landfills are overflowing with the stuff, not to mention the amount of plastic that’s ‘disposed of’ in the countryside and on our streets.
Even our oceans aren’t free of the stuff. On a world basis, it’s estimated that around 46,000 plastic objects are floating within every square mile! Yepp, shocking isn’t it? Not only are our beaches being swamped with plastic debris washed up by the tides, but marine life is suffering through our selfish abuse of our own ability to create new substances. In fact, 170 different species of marine wildlife have been reported to have been fatally injured through mistaking plastic for food. Here in the UK an average of 2 plastic items can be found on every square meter of beach, either washed up or left behind by visitors.
Plastic’s durable because it doesn’t decompose quickly and therein lies the problem. Because it’s also cheap to produce and therefore acquire, it’s all too easy to just get rid of it again without a thought to where it’ll go or what will happen to it.
Thankfully, things are gradually improving. The government have given stores until next spring to reduce the number of plastic carrier bags they hand out by at least 70% or they’ll introduce a forced fee per bag with the income going to environmental projects (or so they say). Marks & Spencer have voluntarily introduced a 5p charge per bag and already the number of bags they’re handing out has been reduced by 80%, proving that if people have to part with their money for something, they’re more likely to think twice about it. Perhaps the problem with plastic is that it’s simply too cheap?
When you can buy a bucket for £1.99, it doesn’t hurt much to just ‘chuck it’ and buy a new one when the original’s looking past its best or no longer matches the décor, whereas if the same bucket cost £10, I’m sure far more people would think twice.
One of my pet peeves is the amount of plastic that supermarkets use for packaging. I bought two small pork chops a few days ago that were packed in a relatively large plastic tray that was again covered with a sturdy plastic film. Now I realise that, unlike the local butcher, they need to pre-pack their meat while leaving the contents visible but the plastic tray was far larger than it needed to be; at least four, maybe even five, chops would have fitted into it. What a waste!
That’s the last time I buy ‘small’ from the supermarket. I prefer to buy my meat from the butcher anyway, but sometimes I have no choice. From now on, when the supermarket’s my only option I shall buy in bulk. Half a dozen chops, chicken breasts or pieces of steak packed in one piece of plastic has to be better than the same packed in three although I know I still won’t be entirely happy about opening it, dividing the contents for freezing, and then discarding the plastic. Some I can reuse to at least extend their life a little but not all of them. The butcher, on the other hand, wraps his meat in a small piece of plastic film and then greaseproof paper - very little packaging in comparison.
Any plastic carrier bags that come into the house are reused as bin liners - the council still prefers us to wrap our waste rather than dump it straight into the bin (health & safety) and I’m blowed if I’m buying special bin liners! I have a friend who only ever uses scented bin-liners but throws her carrier bags straight into the bin. What, I ask you, is the point?
As I said, plastic is here to stay and has its place in our lives - it’s the way in which we use it that I have a problem with.