Within the space of the last couple of years or so we seem to have gone from not caring about how much plastic we use, to having a nationwide campaign to reduce plastic use. The plastic campaign really seemed to get going after an episode of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet aired. It showed what happens when plastic washes out to sea. Footage of vast swaths of plastic rubbish floating around our oceans and sea creatures dying from it shocked and appalled people. Then the BBC One Show picked up on this and ran with it, starting a campaign to educate the British public on plastic and the environment. With tips on reducing plastic use, starting campaigns to get businesses to use less plastic and basically everything they could think of on the subject.
I have always been a keen recycler. I have been sorting my rubbish and recycling for my council curb side collection for years. I reuse things were possible, it saves money as well as the environment. So I was pleased when the issue started to be talked about far more by the media and public alike. However I soon started to notice that a lot of the anti-plastic talk came from a rather middle class, wealthier part of society. Not everyone trying to reduce plastic is middle class, far from it, but a lot of the ideas to reduce it seem only wealthier people’s options, such as the idea to bring back milkmen. The idea of reusable glass bottles is great, but a milkman is expensive compared to milk from the shops. Until enough people in the same area order milk from a milkman to bring delivery costs down some people will not have the budget for it. I can’t see in social-housing that many people will be having a milkman anytime soon on my estate.
What would help would be if the council could enforce curb side recycling. I noticed that a lot of my neighbours do not sort their rubbish at all. In a block of eight flats only two of us regularly seem to put recycling out, and the rest of the street does not appear to be much better. Not only is this bad for the environment, it means we often end up with overflowing black bins and litter outside the flats. I have asked my local council about this and they said they can send letters and leaflets about recycling, but they can only suggest people do it and not enforce it.
The big trend for businesses is to go plastic straw free. I get why this is a good idea, straws can be easily missed by sewage plant filters and litter the ocean killing some animals who swallow a lot of them. However being the skeptic that I am I wonder how many business are doing this for the environment and how many are doing it as a marketing opportunity. I have seen quite a few Facebook adverts and articles that smack of ‘look at us, we stopped using plastic straws aren’t we wonderful, we are a lovely caring company, now come and spend your money with us’. I am sure some companies are genuine, but how many hide behind the no plastic straws thing and are still using far too much plastic in other ways?
Something we could all do is stop drinking bottled water, especially when at home. I live in Devon, one of the softest water areas in the country, known for our nice water by people who live elsewhere, but even here I know people who drink bottled water. I do occasionally buy bottled water when out if I forget to take a drink with me or do not realise I will need one, but I try to reuse the bottle again filling it with water when I am going on a longer outing to take with me. A lot of cafes are more than happy to refill your bottle for you with tap water for free. Reusing plastic is a great way to reduce waste, and it can save you money.
What we have to be careful of is judging others on their plastic use when they have no choice but to use it. I live in a small town and sometimes you simply have to buy plastic as it is the only option in town. Also on a budget I can not always afford to pay a lot more for something simply to get a plastic fee version. I am happy to pay a few pence more, but not a significant amount. We need more plastic free options at affordable prices.
Whilst using less plastic people need to remember to do other things for the environment. For example people could use public transport when possible instead of driving everywhere or car share. Try not to waste so much food, I see a lot of wasted food in my block of flats bin area, food that is not even put in the compost waste caddy for collection. Is plastic just the latest environmentalism trend? Is this a middle class fad that will soon peter out when the next environmental issue takes hold? I really hope not, I hope this leads to long term cultural changes, but we will see.