Our Plastics: An Update
Last night we experienced another almighty surge of emotion watching Drowning In Plastic (aired on BBC One, 1st October). If you don’t read any further, please at least go and watch it on BBC iPlayer and you’ll understand why we blubbed our way through it.
Following on the path laid by David Attenborough on Blue Planet II, Liz Bonnin presents this new documentary to show the impact of plastic on the natural world without muting the brutal truth of it.
She showed us the vast raft of plastic floating in the Citarum river in Indonesia where an estimated 2,000 tonnes of plastic flows by every day. Yes, this is destroying nature, but it is also ruining the livelihoods of people who rely on the river for an income and food. Maybe when we see the impact on these people and their families we will start taking serious action?
She showed us flesh-footed shearwater chicks being fed dozens of bits of plastic by their parents, leading to their untimely death. Some chicks have enough plastic inside them to match an equivalent of 10kg of plastic in humans.
She showed us the impact of the fishing industry on marine wildlife, arguably the most harrowing scene in the whole documentary: a seal with a sever laceration to its neck caused by plastic fishing line. It is impossible for seals, whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles, seabirds and all other marine wildlife to free themselves from fishing gear once they have become entangled. They require teams of people to risk their own lives to save them, but this is unsustainable and doesn’t even cover the number of animals being affected by human fishing activity. Over a million tonnes of fishing gear is lost or dumped at sea every year. The way we fish has to change. This is where Drowning in Plastic offered some hope, recounting some brilliant stories of people across the planet with ingenious solutions to the global plastic problem, such as devices to release the rope and buoy of lobster crates when the boat is ready to pick up its catch, instead of leaving the ropes suspending for whales to get caught in.
These are brilliant, but these solutions tend are focusing on cleaning up the plastic already lost to the waves. However, we now also need to focus on cutting our plastic waste to prevent needing to clean up the oceans for the generations to come, especially when our output is supposed to double by 2050. This year, the Green18 team have been steadily reducing our plastic output, but we are by no means saintly. We all need to work together and talk about what we each do and use to cut out plastic from our lives.
For example, we have cut down our disposable plastic in the bathroom down to only the plastic bottles for our toilet and shower cleaner from Method. The kitchen is a much bigger hurdle, as food packaging is such a difficult issue. We get as much of our fruit and veg plastic free from the major supermarkets or greengrocers as possible and we now actively shop around to get the plastic free option. We bake our own bread to cut out the plastic packaging (and, incidentally, the palm oil). But so much that helps us maintain our vegetarian (verging on vegan), palm-oil-free, locally-sourced diet comes in some sort of plastic. Elsewhere at home we have our deliveries coming in unwanted plastic; there are plastic cables everywhere; we have plastic in appliances, plastic bins, plastic fibres in our clothes, plastic in our instruments & board games; and plastic that I can’t even see, things made of plastic that I take for granted. Some of these can be avoided with suitable alternatives but so much of our plastic, whilst not single-use, is inherent in our lives.
So what can we do? We can focus on our own goals, start small and slowly work things into our way of life. We are no Miss Congeniality; we won’t bring global peace or solve world hunger by ourselves. All we can do is try not to get overwhelmed and make sure we do as much as we can to reduce the plastic we use and dispose of what we do use in the most reasonable way possible. This might mean spending a bit more or using some more time, but many of us can spare that extra pound or that extra minute to do the right thing. Encourage your friends, encourage your family and they will encourage others in return. We are one network of amazing people that can have a drastic impact on the plastic society we live in by making a small change together. It’s the only way we can help. Let’s do this!