It’s interesting how long you can cheerfully ignore something that’s been nagging away at the back of your brain. And suddenly the world conspires to bring it to the front of your mind so forcefully that you can no longer dismiss it. Yes, that is what just happened to me about the way we all use plastic: as if it was in some miraculous way disposable instead of being something near indestructible that is going to plague our children’s children and our planet.
I’d already been struck by the plastics problem on the Caribbean island of Martinique, and how the French law followed there (it’s a French department) is way ahead of anything the British Prime Minister has yet promised in the UK.
When I got home, I noticed an old friend Jo Ruxton was speaking at the journalists’ Frontline Club about her film A Plastic Ocean. Jo gave up a great job at the BBC National History Unit – makers of Blue Planet and now Blue Planet 2 – eight years ago because they weren’t interested in funding a film to find out at what plastic was doing to the oceans. Jo, who was working for the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong when I first met her, loves everything about the oceans and determined to do it herself. After many struggles, the film was launched in 2016 to critical acclaim. And people were beginning to be ready to listen to what she had to say.
Her talk was electrifying, supported by science and statistics that brought home the facts I’d not been facing up to, like what happens to the plastic that gets into the fish and bird food chain. Since I gave up eating meat last year, I have been eating a lot more fish. Am I just eating a lot more plastic?
There was so much I hadn’t really thought about, like just how many of my supermarket purchases are in plastic packaging. I thought I was already well educated on the issue, thanks to my sister Kate, who introduced me to The Rubbish Diet; I recycle my rubbish in Hammersmith quasia religiously (though I’m curious to know what happens to the mixed bags of paper and plastic now China has refused to take “foreign rubbish” any longer).
My husband and I went home and watched Jo’s film on Netflix ( you’ll find it in the documentaries section). The next day we walked round the supermarket, trying to buy products without plastic. Our two (reusable) bags worth of shopping included
I knew I could have tried harder especially over the fruit and veg, but it was snowing and we had to get up a steep hill to a friend’s house to look after their dogs. Isn’t everyone always in a rush when shopping?
Once we’d waded through the snowdrifts and walked the dog, I checked my washbag. Hmm, what a complicated little plastic box my dental floss came in; and what about the dental floss itself? A small plastic shampoo bottle; a plastic face cream pot; a plastic tube of toothpaste. These things are never going to come in paper bags but maybe if I buy bigger sizes I can refill the smaller pots? I know Neals Yard make them and Jo recommended the solid beauty products being developed by Lush without packaging.
But if I do all this, will it make a difference? I can’t even persuade my neighbours to recycle every week. And I write this in Tunis, where the restaurants offer you a free plastic bottle of water with your lunch. Thankfully the BBC Media Action office has water coolers so I can reuse the bottle I brought from London. But my colleagues throw their bottles in the trash which is not recycled. They laugh at my zeal. I reply they live close to the Mediterranean sea and there’s already a plastic tide washing up on their beaches.
A few more links I’m following to reduce, reuse and recycle