The problem with plastic

I know it’s not spring yet, but it sure feels like it. The camelia is in full bloom. The daffs are ready to burst. There are sprays of tiny little white flowers on one of the trees we planted to replace the ones that Ophelia destroyed. The land is full of the promise of foxgloves, blue bells and primroses. It feels like everything is waking up. If it wasn’t for the memory of snowdrifts last March, I would officially declare winter over. 

Last year’s weather was so freaky that I’m still a little shellshocked. Hurricane Ophelia, three feet of snow, and a scorchio 30C summer is not what we are used to in West Cork. Who knows what February and March might bring? Will we have another hot summer? Are we due some flooding? As one local farmer put it: “You can’t count on the weather no more.” 

If you think I’m going to launch into a climate change debate – I’m not. There’s nothing to debate. We risk too much if we don’t heed the warnings. All yee climate change deniers can just go over and join the lads who jeered at Noah when he started to build the Ark. We have yet to hear a direct message from Above, but in the meantime we do have the UN Climate Report, issued last October. It is pretty dire. We have 12 years to get it right.

That’s a scary thought. What can we do in our daily lives to avert disaster? Enter Plastic. The enemy is packaging-particularly plastic. Having very little say in policy making, and not enough money to buy a hybrid car, or retrofit our homes; most of us have focused on two things: packaging and recycling. We try to avoid buying packaging and we are dutiful in our recycling. Plastic is the number one culprit.  And the solution is recycling it. 

Don’t get me wrong. I think that we should get rid of all single use plastics from our lives. This is easier said than done, however. I’ve been trying and failing. Our household has greatly reduced, yet we still manage to accumulate loads of plastic. I’ve been monitoring my recycling and I have concluded that there are three factors contributing to the big bag of plastic that I transport to the recycling centre every few weeks: price, convenience, and brands. I buy plastic packaged goods because they are cheap, or convenient (like sliced cheese), or a brand I like that does not offer alternative packaging. Until manufacturers and large retail chains eliminate plastic packaging, we will accumulate piles of it in our back hall until we take it down to the recycling centre.

The whole problem with plastic is ironic. Plastics are amazing. Things made out of plastic last forever. Yet we mainly use it in single use packaging. We buy a two-litre plastic bottle of water, and when we are finished, we chuck it. Then we go out and buy a watering can… Same goes for plastic tubs, yoghurt pots, milk bottles, and fruit punnets. 

The dilemma we face in making personal choices to help do our bit for the environment was revealed to me when I discovered bamboo toothbrushes. I was instantly smitten. They would look lovely in my shower room and I could compost my toothbrush instead of throwing it out. Then I looked in the cupboard and discovered that I still had three brand new toothbrushes, because they come in packs of four. Also, I never throw out old toothbrushes because they are great for cleaning grouting, or other hard to get into corners. I still wanted the bamboo one, but it was a consumerist need (They look so cool!) not a real need. I decided to wait until I have used up the toothbrushes I have. There are still two toothbrushes left in the pack.

The big problem with plastic is that it focuses on just one enemy – plastic, and one way to defeat it – recycling. If only it could be so simple. 

We need to see the bigger picture. We need to think locally, nationally, and globally. West Cork is well placed to adapt quickly, both to the changes in weather, and to try and meet the goals of the UN report. We need to make planning for the next 12 years a priority. If we don’t, we’ll be sleepwalking into the apocalypse no matter how many KeepCups we have.

Tina Pisco

Tina Pisco is a best-selling author, who has lived in West Cork, Ireland for the past twenty years.

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