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The Plastic Problem

Taking a stand against plastic

The United Kingdom’s supermarkets produce 800,000 tonnes of disposable plastic every single year. Where does this plastic end up? We put it into our bins and those of us who care trust in our local government to dispose of it in a way that will not cause harm to our planet and life on it. Yet we are wishful thinking. At the time of writing this the UK is the second biggest user of disposable plastic in the world per capita, behind the US, despite claiming to be a World Leader on plastic waste.

The United Kingdom exported 688,000 tonnes of plastic waste in 2020 and recycled just 486,000 tonnes. Of the plastic waste that was exported much of it was exported to countries without the necessary means to recycle it. Turkey, Malaysia and Poland received the vast majority. A recent Green Peace report said that much of the waste sent to Turkey about 30% of the waste we exported, was either burnt, which is effectively burning fossil fuels, or ended up in rivers and the ocean or was left to make plastic mountains, but not recycled after all.

We simply cannot allow a system to continue that allows our waste to destroy our planet and ultimately ourselves. As the waste enters our oceans and rivers it enters our food chain, kills marine life and the burning of it contributes to global warming.

We are all responsible for the mess we find ourselves in, our apathy and disconnection from nature led by our desire for convenience, the corporations hunger for greater profits and the world’s government’s need for economic growth year on year.

There are two obvious problems that urgently need to be addressed. We need to stop using disposable plastic completely, as we cannot trust the UK government to dispose of it safely and we need to stop exporting our waste overseas. This needs to be enshrined into law. In order to stop exporting our waste we will need to invest in our recycling industry and increase our capacity to recycle.

Food waste is an issue, but plastic is not the solution. It is not wise to solve one problem by creating another. In some cases plastic packaging actually causes food waste. Examples for this are that packaged food needs to be a certain weight or size so food is not sold as it does not fit the packages. We also often buy more than we need and food goes to waste as it is not eaten by the consumer. If we select the quantity of vegetables or meat that we need rather than the conveniently supplied packaged bundle we are then spending less money and buying exactly what we need.

It is not only our food which is covered in plastic before we buy it, in most shops we’ll find it aisles of plastic. Plastic is used everywhere, from our coat hangers to our shampoo bottles, it has entered all aspects of our life, even the keys to the computer I type on. We have become so reliant on it; however it is a modern invention and one we can do without. Yes in the short time it will be expensive to turn back the clock or develop new eco-friendly materials but we can no longer hide behind the cost of something, immediate action is required as we are heading towards destroying our own destruction.

We have known about this problem for some time yet year on year, humans in the world are producing more and more plastic, which is driven by the companies that make it. The people behind the biggest plastic companies are the very same people behind the big oil companies and are funded by many of our major High Street Banks.

If we wait for our current form of democratic government to take action, it will be too late. They have shown time and time again that the current crop of politicians maybe world leaders in spin, avoidance and denial, but fall short in timely action, taking responsibility and admitting when they’ve messed up. People say we get the politicians we deserve, I am not sure if that is correct, however as a nation we can stop buying products in plastic packaging and when we do so in big enough numbers, manufacturers will be forced into action.

Let us not just think about the packaging alone, let us think about the products we purchase as well. Ask yourself, does it serve a purpose that is really necessary? Take a trip around any £1 store and you will find endless worthless products that serve no necessary purpose. Our culture has been exploited by marketeers selling us the need to buy gift cards, presents for all occasions. Think for a moment about the wastage of the goods purchased as Christmas presents to fill a stocking, Christmas crackers, wrapping paper and the bow, or buying our pet its own pointless plastic item when a bone or a cardboard box would give more pleasure. All of these items end up as waste; children’s toys in boxes used a handful of times, advent calendars filled with chocolates offering the child the chance to add even more sugar to their unhealthy and unnatural diet.

Halloween offers the sellers of useless items another opportunity to exploit parents, with plastic eyeballs, vampire teeth and spiders in webs; the list goes on and on. Can we not live without these pointless items that are used for a fraction of time and move to a more enlightened world that puts nature ahead of our need for meaningless entertainment?

I saw in a supermarket listed as summer essentials, items including plastic rackets and balls, inflatable flamingos for a swimming pool and water guns. These items are hardly essential and by labelling them as such they are influencing us and our culture into purchasing items we can live without.

Every day in our neighbourhood unsolicited leaflets are posted through our doors selling us items we usually have no interest in, selling us houses, fast food, dog grooming services or telling us to vote in a particular way. Think how many homes we have in the UK and then image how much of this waste ends up in the bin never even looked at? At a recent general election one of the political parties put 7 different campaign leaflets through our door. The environmental impact this practice has is significant. Businesses do need to get their message out there, but we are innovative and if forced to we can find another way. I spoke with a local leaflet distribution company who told me that typically a business can expect 1 to 2 percent success in a leaflet drop that is approximately 1.5 leads per 100 leaflets. I think this is an industry we can afford to lose.

Information on plastic and its impact on our environment is common knowledge, our children learn about it in school, so why are we not tackling this issue with the urgency it requires. Quite simply it is about money, plastic is cheaper to produce than its alternatives. The only way we can stop a world hell bent on destroying itself for profit, is to create a new form of democracy. Nations led by the wise, elected by the informed, leading to a global movement of unity and a human race living in harmony with themselves and the natural world. After all, there is not much point in a handful of countries making the changes needed, we need the whole world to work together.

We can no longer be patient, we must take action ourselves. The governments around the world have let us down and people are no longer blind to the problems. We have moved from ignorance to apathy to empathy, now we must move to action. Stop buying plastic, stop buying for the sake of buying and stick a sign on your door saying no more junk mail or unsolicited political leaflets. Show your disgust and disapproval to our supermarkets, manufacturers and the government for their ineffective policies.

Together let’s do our bit…

Written by Ben Molyneux

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