I had lunch with the head of the Plastics Federation last week and listened to him discuss innovations in plastics that will revolutionise the health industry. For better and worse we live in a world where plastic rules because pretty much everything we buy and use is imprinted with a plastic relationship somewhere in its life span.
Another of the conversations that arose during the lunch was the environmental monitoring that is taking place on the coastline to assess plastic pollution and where it comes from. Running in tandem with this research is a study that monitors the amount of decomposing plastic washing up on the shores.
He studies these micro particles of plastic, which is anything less than 10mm in size, to assess its levels of toxicity and the likely impact on the shoreline’s eco-system. Sea life is massively affected by plastic pollution and the impact on various species is devastating.
The environmentalist was very concerned that the reason for the huge amounts of plastic pollution that is showing up on our shores is because of the assumption made by consumers that if it is biodegradable, it means the packaging can be thrown away rather than recycled, with the empty promise that it will eventually decompose somewhere along the line.
What we don’t get to engage with (yet) is the result of the plastic pollution that comes as a result of this practise. I was holding a straw, just about to unwrap it and pop it into my drink when he pointed to me and said “We get a lot of those washing up. They don’t biodegrade” And there I had a vision of a sea with waves crashing, with millions of little straws forming part of the wake.
There are many pictures of the island of plastic floating around in the Pacific, and straws are just a miniscule component of the plastic trash heap. This is the problem. A possible solution could be in the form of a giant philanthropic gesture by global plastic manufacturers to join together to tackle the plastic island and recycle the whole lot into useful items? This is possible because a lot of plastic can be recycled and turned into an incredible array of items which can be re-used and re-distributed.
The journey we are on to tackle our pollution issues and become more aware of the chain that leads to mass pollution is just beginning and it involves each one of us. The relationship we have with plastic is unavoidable but the quantities we consume and how we dispose of it can also be tackled much more consciously.
There are some wonderful innovations being created from recycled plastics and more than 70% of what we use can be reconstituted.
Even with that in mind, on my immediate list of no more 'need to' haves are straws, cling film (because you can re-use the plastic skin covering vege packs for exactly the same purpose) disposable lighters, razors and plastic pens. And then I am going to keep all the plastic items I have and turn them into something weird and wonderful and then hand it over to be reconstituted into flooring or clothing and then a whole other cycle can begin.
What happens at the end of this cycle we will not know just yet because we are still invovled in it and are engaging in the process of becoming a society that pays attention to these little things that we have some measure over.
If we ignore the little things, experience will testify that they will eventually add up and morph into a big thing. In this case does it have to be life punctuated by trash heaps?