opinion

Our addiction to plastic

9 August 2018 - 53   - 0

Can we think of what it’s like to live a non-disposable lifestyle? There it becomes easy to appreciate just how much unnecessary waste we create on a daily basis and how simple it could be to make more sustainable life choices with our use of everyday objects and materials if we really want to.

 

We are addicted to plastic. It’s surprising how quickly we came to embrace the ludicrous notion that we should be using anything just once and then tossing it away. Single-use plastic water bottles, lunch wrapping, coffee cups, straws and plastic shopping bags all polystyrene foam packaging, including takeout containers, meat trays and other plastic cartons; single-use plastic are so pervasive in our modern lifestyles that there’s almost nothing you can point to, that doesn’t in some way use disposable plastics.

 

While it is the responsibility of the government and private-sector companies to come together and change product design by depressing the non-essential use of plastics, the choices we regularly make as individuals going about our days are absolutely integral to pushing back against the plasticization of our Planet, the oceans.

 

Regardless of government policy we have to take our own initiative to reduce plastic use. We need to start with rejecting the notion that single-use plastics are a necessity in our daily lives. Public sentiment on climate change and environment has changed significantly over the past few years.  Banning plastics is one swift way to deal with the issue, and offer a temporary path to more impactful, sustainable strategies.

Clearly, the ban of plastic bags is a divisive issue; the resistance is real. Recently we experienced the public reaction to legislation banning Plastic bags. Plastic bags are a convenience and a habit hard to break. It could be an inconvenience to food shoppers. The challenge is with alternatives, of course, its cost. But the problem will not go away, as the planet is currently drowning in plastic pollution.

 

The notion of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle has been preached for years now. Outright bans fit well within such a paradigm. But the concept of replacing single-use plastics requires the achievement of a revolution in consumer mentality. As such, a much more interesting challenge is that of keeping grocery shopping from becoming either a burden on the environment or an inconvenience to customers.

 

The UN Environment has launched a campaign named “Clean Seas” in February 2017 with the aim of raising awareness of what plastic waste is doing to our oceans, our wildlife and us.  It says every year, around 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans, poisoning our fish, birds and other sea creatures. That’s the equivalent of one garbage truck of litter being dumped into the sea every minute. In April, on the southern coast of Spain a sperm whale was found dead and an autopsy revealed that it was killed by the 29 kilos of plastic found in its stomach. This, unfortunately, is not a unique case. That is the scale of the problem.

 

According to UN Environment, Just over a year since the launch, 50 governments – accounting for more than half the world’s coastline – have signed up and joined the #Clean Seas campaign. Sri Lanka is among these 50 countries. Thereby Sri Lanka has pledged its commitment to ocean protection.  Among other countries are Canada, which has the world’s longest coastline, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Maldives, UK, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, to name few of them.

 

This is kind of move that inspires hope in the face of a massive adversary. Plastics are a clear and present danger to the future of our planet. The numbers are staggering. An estimated eight million tonnes of plastic, the equivalent of approximately 630 billion single-use plastic water bottles, finds its way into our oceans every year, posing a deadly threat to marine life.  

 

Recycling represents a partly viable solution. Our plastic-fuelled lifestyles have made it so that even our recycling programs are drowning in way more plastics than they were ever intended to deal with. Just because you popped it in the blue bin doesn’t mean it’s not still going to find its way to the sea. While recycling has long been the “R” that gets the most attention when it comes to the Three R’s of Sustainability, it’s the other two – Reduce and Reuse – which we will need to focus on if we hope to help stop the deluge of plastics into the oceans.

It’s not just at home or either working, we are even more willing to embrace the idea of single-use waste when travelling. Imagine the number of people travelling on vacation on pilgrimage and on other occasions annually and on average the number of plastic water bottles – single-use waste they use per person. Multiply that by the number, you start to get an idea of the kind of damage being inflicted on places that are often ill-equipped to deal with plastic waste.   At least with your blue bin, the plastic waste has some chance of serving a second purpose. The same can’t be said of the water bottle you’re tossing aside as you travel. The single-use waste found on the way to “Sri Pada” during the season every year despite warnings is a fine example.

 

We need to change individually and re-evaluate our use of plastic. The reality is that we all need to make real changes in the way we live our lives if we hope to solve the problem. We need to find ways to push back against the trend toward the disposable in our society. While there’s no denying plastic has become an integral part of our daily lives, we need to change own behaviour by, for example, using cloth bags and carrying steel cups or cutlery with us, refusing plastic straws and demanding the removal of plastic cups or single-use bottles from hotels, restaurants and our offices.

 

Being aware that the flimsy plastic bag we tear off the roll to put our tomatoes and apples into, at the super market (and look at that tiny plastic sticker on every single tomato and apple) will be hanging around for at least the next 1,000 years, with no other purpose to serve other than having encased our tomatoes and apples for the duration of the journey from the super market to our fridge. Make it easier to simply leave it on the roll.

 

That line of thinking should also help us make adjustments in our life when it comes to reusing by reinforcing the importance of bringing your own reusable shopping bags to the store, carrying a reusable water bottle, bringing your own cup to the office and packing lunch and storing leftovers in reusable containers.

 

Realistically reducing plastics means consuming consciously. It is helpful to keep in mind that, in reality, there is nothing actually disposable about plastics. Every single piece of plastic we have ever created is still with us now. Plastic’s indestructible nature has helped to make it pervasive in the things we use, but it also means it’s not going to break down anytime soon. Keeping that fact in front of mind as we make purchasing decisions helps us to understand the effects of our decision and to make smart ones.

 

Until every one of us individually work to cure our plastic addiction, we will be failed in our effort to effectively save our oceans from plastics.

 

-  RAJA WICKRAMASINGHE

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