Ever since David Attenborough's Blue Planet programme warned about the plastics crisis in our oceans, it feels like there have been daily articles and news reports highlighting how bad the situation is, and how much worse it's going to get. A recent statistic to come out was that by 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic than fish, by weight.
It feels overwhelming. It feels hopeless sometimes. And when you start to look around at how much single-use plastic we are surrounded by, it feels like there's nothing we can do about it.
But we can do something about it. What are the plastics ending up in the oceans? A large proportion of them are plastics that we as consumers have bought and thrown away - or worse, sent to be recycled - and as consumers we are the ones creating the demand for single-use plastic. Every piece of plastic we refuse lessens the demand. If billions of us around the world start making different choices in what we consume, we will create the change this planet needs. This is the definition of Think Globally, Act Locally.
Okay, so back to the title of this post - where do I start?
The first step is awareness. It is to look around you, look around your house - your kitchen and bathroom especially - and start noticing how much single-use plastic there is. Start observing how much plastic waste you and your family generate. We did this at home by doing a one-week waste inventory - I called it our 'Week in Waste'.
For one week, I took photos of everything that went into a bin - general waste and recycling. At the end of the week I made a list of everything we threw away, so we can start looking for ways to reduce our waste. This is what we generated in our 2-adult household:
Here are some of the highlights of what went into the bin:
- 11 pieces of non-recyclable plastic film. Things like cling film, plastic film from fruit and vegetables, plastic bags from pasta, and so on.
- 6 tissues and 6 paper towels - you haven't been putting them in the recycling bin, have you? They can't be recycled.
- At least 4 items that were mixed media wrappers - things like a cereal bar wrapper, yeast sachets, and the paper wrapper from a block of butter.
Doing this exercise made me hyper aware of everything we were throwing away for a week. I felt guilt in the pit of my stomach every time I put non-recyclable plastics in our bin. Sometimes I pictured it ending up in a bird's stomach - it is impossible to unsee those images. Once you become aware of all the plastic that we as a society have been tossing away for decades, you can't stop noticing. All of the plastic ever produced is still on the planet, in one form or another. And we keep making more of it.
I bet you're thinking I'm about to tell you that since our Week in Waste we've eliminated all single-use plastics from our house. We haven't. Like I said, it is everywhere. We are doing our best to make changes to our lifestyle and our habits to enable us to refuse more single-use plastics, but it is overwhelming. It's also unrealistic to think that we can all turn our backs on plastic tomorrow.
This blog post is turning out a lot more doom and gloom than I intended; I just wanted to highlight that we have a serious problem and we all need to be contributing to the solution. Being aware of the scale of the problem is the first step. Then, small changes.
More on that to follow...