The Plastic Problem

The biggest issue with plastic is that the problem is so vast, where do you start?

There are so many tendrils worked into so many people’s lives that it is daunting to even start thinking about how you might solve it.

For me, the first thing to do is to properly see the big picture – the entire puzzle. If you can’t – or don’t – look at that first, you might actually make things worse.

Hold on, why am I even talking about this?

The Ocean Film Festival

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the Ocean Film Festival. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a set of films, made by a bunch of different people, all put together in a kind of showcase. Some films are about conservation, some about adventure and some about ridiculous things nobody should ever do. I’m not a fan of free diving – it’s a totally crazy endeavour to me!

The set of films was good, if not a little depressing. They saved the best for last about a couple of Latvian chaps rowing across the ocean. It was gross and hilarious. But enough of that.

The film that has really stuck in my head, showed a marine biologist who works with sea birds. She has been finding increasing amounts of plastic inside them. Their bellies are swollen and crunchy with plastic. They aren’t able to grow properly because they aren’t eating proper food and the effects are devastating to watch.

What happened next…

As a result of seeing this film, I inevitably told anyone who would listen about how sad and shocking it was.

I also started seeing plastic EVERYWHERE.

I like to think I’m a person living as responsibly as I can on this planet. I like to think that. Is it true? No.

Before I really shone a light onto it, I’d have told you that I recycle as much as I can. I reuse plastic bags and I take my camelbak water bottle with me everywhere. That’ll do, right?


What I didn’t see is that I am surrounded by plastic. I use plastic food bags for a past time. Cling film. Milk bottles. Hand soap dispensers. Calpol for goodness sake!

It’s disgusting and sad and feels never ending. It’s everywhere.

Are we addicted to plastic?

Probably not.

Are we presented with sufficient alternatives? No.

Are we even aware of all of the ways plastic is used in the world? I seriously doubt it.

Can we be bothered to spend a little longer finding a different solution..?

Making it visible.

Plastic isn’t just packaging – for basically everything.

It’s not just single-use items that cause the problem. Check out your toothbrush, you’ll use that a whole bunch of times. Then what? Chuck it in the bin and go buy another one. Over and over. Everyone is doing that. All over the world.

My latest challenge I’ve set myself is a small one. Convert my little girl to using a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic one. Biodegradable and not as expensive as you think. They also do them in purple – bonus. Will she understand why she can’t have the one with My Little Pony on it? Not yet.

So why am I not starting by converting my own toothbrush? I’ve watched a few documentaries about plastic now, and I have been left with a whole bunch of unanswered questions. I’ll come to that later on, or in a different post. Back to the toothbrush. I’m not starting with myself because I use a rechargeable toothbrush. Yep, the whole damn thing is made of plastic. Not just the head. Chucking the whole thing away would be adding to the problem. And this is part of the whirlpool in my head.

We don’t just need to find and use alternatives to plastic. We need to figure out the best way to use the plastic that’s already in our lives.

Plastic straws are the new devil

Apparently. But – I already have some. I’ve had them for maybe five years. I’m not kidding.

The last thing I want to do, is throw those straws in the recycling to clear my conscience. How crazy would that be? Getting them out of my sight doesn’t fix the problem. And that’s just a tiny example.

Where possible, I tried not to buy a whole bunch of plastic toys for my daughter. I didn’t do this out of some ecological obligation. I did this because I read something somewhere about how children interact with wooden objects vs. plastic. So my decision was coincidentally supportive of my current fear-based rant/project.

But the plastic toys have snuck up on me. I can see some from here – a till, a pet carrier for her fluffy cat, her doctor’s kit, a plastic halloween bucket.

How did this happen??

On a slightly more comforting note, there’s also a plastic tree house she plays with. Why is this comforting?

Because it was mine. That tree house is more than 25 years old. It’s plastic that hasn’t been thrown away. It’s still being used.

I’ll start getting to the point very soon, promise.

I think there are a bunch of things we all need to get super real about, before we launch into a set of knee-jerk solutions that have us going around in circles:

1. Education

I’m not talking about making this a problem for our children and their teachers. I’m talking about us. All of us. People should never stop learning. You have the tools to find out more. Use your phone, use your eyes and talk about it.

Think about what’s going on. Be aware. Before you even do anything about it, just acknowledging the size, scale and impacts of the situation is really the only sensible place to start.

It’s very sad seeing seals and whales and turtles caught up in plastic nets in the sea. Dying slow and painful deaths. It makes me cry to watch it. But that’s only part of the problem. The food those mammals eat are affected. The food their food eats is affected. This is bigger than some cute animals that make you feel sad to watch.

2. Replacements

For plastic. Alternatives. I just watched an interesting programme on iPlayer about all of this. There was a young fella who has created an alternative to plastic wrap using seaweed.

It really was amazing. But, like a lot of things the BBC (and any other corporations) show you, there were some serious questions that weren’t asked. Like, wow, this stuff is super cool and the plastic-replacement just dissolves when you put it in water…so what if it all gets wet in storage? Is the entire batch ruined then? Or do you just make sure you distribute it all in larger (plastic??) containers?

Maybe I’m being cynical. I really did love his invention. I think it’s very exciting. The problem is that it needs to be viable. I genuinely, truly and completely hope it is. But leaving those questions out makes you wonder, no?

3. Existing Plastic

What to do with what we already have. Well, keep using it I guess.

Why am I even mentioning this? I have this heeby jeeby feeling in my tummy that tells me soon, plastic might be vilified all together.

Which will mean people may not want to be seen using it, or having it. Take my straws for example. I already own them. I had them when I was a tiny bit more stupid than I am now. Before I saw the problem. If plastic straws really are the devil, how will people avoid that judgement? By getting rid of it…

You need to understand that “plastic straws” are really representing the whole plastic monster here. 

Plastic doesn’t go away. The first piece of plastic that was created may well be floating around in the ocean somewhere. Even all of those pieces of tragic plastic inside those sea birds, will one day be back in the environment.

Watching these programmes and seeing plastic where I haven’t before, creates a real paradox for me. Here are these marine biologists campaigning for the planet, using a whole bunch of plastic syringes and test kits and pontoons to do their crusading.

I can’t put my finger on it, but I think the answer isn’t about making the plastic go away – because we can’t. It’s about knowing and controlling where it is. I just have a feeling that isn’t how the human brain works – we want to find a problem, fix it (remove it) and move on. Here we may have to continue to see it, live with it, forever.

4. Proper Recycling

I use my plastic milk bottles and I put them in the brown bin in my kitchen. Every now and again, I will empty that bin into the bigger bin outside of my house. Every other week, I put that bin out for some no-name people to collect and take away. And so it goes.

I have no idea what happens to that plastic after that.

I have no idea what percentage of plastic I’ve intended to recycle, makes it into something else. Whether it is lost on the way or just not possible to convert. I have no idea how much energy it takes to do that. I don’t know if I’m even happy with what it might get turned into.

The new shocker? Clothing. Plastic in clothing. Great, that’s a good responsible way to recycle plastic, yeah? Except now they say it isn’t. Apparently when we wash our clothes, fragments of plastic are rubbed off of these clothes and enter the environment. From washing our clothes.

Death loop.

Us: But we recycled it!

Planet: Yeah, but you recycled it wrong.

Us: But!

Planet: It’s too late.

I don’t have any answers here. I just have sadness.

5. Clean Up

Let’s pretend we have fixed everything leading up to #5 and now we’re just tidying up.

Okay, so we need to do some trawling of the oceans for plastic. That sounds like a good idea.

But wait – isn’t trawling bad? Haven’t we fought against this countless times before?

A few months ago, I watched a program on oyster trawling. How massive, heavy rake-type metal nets are dragged along the sea bed. My take home from that was mass-destruction.

Trawling = bad.

And remember that whole deal with tuna and dolphins?

Trawling = bad.

And non-sustainable fishing…

Trawling = bad.

Now, I’m not saying that these trawlers picking up plastic are bad – not at all. My issue here is that I haven’t had it explained that they aren’t bad. I haven’t heard the genius of how they will pick up all of the plastic and leave behind happier, undisturbed organisms – whether flora or fauna.

I’d just like to know how this trawling is good. And if they’ve unlocked a secret here for plastic trawling, could it maybe be used elsewhere?

Thanks for staying with me

If you’ve made it to the end of this, well done. I’m sort of amazed I did. But I think this is important. And important to get right. And although the issue is vast and we need multiple initiatives, I’m just a little concerned that some initiatives may not be compatible with others and maybe, we need a holistic approach.

Finally, I would like to point out that I am not some sort of eco-crusader. I have no history of protesting or even any action. Which I’m sort of ashamed of. As I said, I would have called myself a responsible passenger on this planet. and I’m a little sad and disappointed in myself in realising I’m not. Or not as much as I could be.

So I’m going to try and fix one thing at a time. Who knows where that may lead.

The Plastic Problem - Where to start?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s