If you have been watching SKY News recently, or indeed, following any online international media, you can’t have failed to notice that the world is getting its collective knickers in a twist over plastic waste.
SKY’s main focus has been on the amount of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, some of which has now been recovered from the carcasses of dead whales and other large amphibians and was clearly the cause of their deaths.
The SKY team has also been out trawling beaches to search in the sand for traces of plastic waste and it has turned up just about everywhere they have looked, often in miniscule particles which, when washed out to sea, could end up being ingested by much smaller sea creatures and indeed, it’s a fair bet, that before long the ocean-caught fish we eat will be contaminated with plastic, if it isn’t already.
The UK-based news broadcaster is using its findings to mount a campaign to persuade people to reduce their personal plastic consumption but their appeals are aimed mainly at people in the UK and whilst of course you have to start somewhere, the bulk of the ocean plastic pollutants are turning up in the Pacific Ocean region, fed by mountains of waste from the Asian continent and surrounding areas.
That’s where much of the global population lives, it’s where much of the world’s plastic is produced, consumed and discarded and sadly, it’s where the majority of the residents are either not educated in the clear and present dangers of excess plastic rubbish or they couldn’t much care.
And meanwhile I sit and watch and wonder ‘what were you thinking’?, ‘you’ being the whole world over the past 50-odd years since plastic was invented and pounced on as the answer to the every product casing and wrapping problem there is; because, yes, this now big issue has happened over my own lifetime, a seismic shift from biodegradable containers made from natural products to plastic, polystyrene and every other indestructible polymer you can think of.
When I was young, many radios, gramophones, television sets and the like came with a wooden housing; you can still find modern-day examples but they are sold as ‘retro-styled’ and cost much more than their plastic counterparts; when I was young milk came in returnable bottles which were delivered to your door by the milkman who collected up the rinsed empties you left out for him and took them back to the depot for sterliisation and reuse; when I was young there was no such thing as a pre-pack of vegetables – everything was sold loose, weighed and put into brown paper bags which went onto the compost heap or were burnt in the fireplace; meat and fish were similarly sold, wrapped in greaseproof paper; when I was young there was no such thing as a supermarket, much less a supermarket plastic carrier bag – shoppers always took their own heavy-duty shopping bags or baskets with them when they popped to the store and when they got home and emptied them they would probably have been placed near the coat rack so they were to hand when next they were needed; when I was young, all cool-drinks came in recyclable glass bottles – when I lived in Cyprus, the Coke truck would call round weekly with a case of Coke, Fanta and the like and pick up last week’s empties; when I was young, all household condiments such as brown sauce or ketchup came in glass bottles; when I was young it was considered appalling bad manners to eat food on the hoof and anyway, the only takeaway item was fish and chips, wrapped in greaseproof and/or newspaper which was carried home and consumed indoors, the paper either being disposed of as above or placed in the dustbin – no such thing as a polystyrene container used once and simply discarded where the consumer finishes their vulgar guzzling and dropped on the floor to lie round for a couple of hundred years.
And whilst I’m no spring chicken, I’m not Methuselah either - I have lived through a revolution in packaging and I don’t care for it. Glass to me is still the most hygienic and practical container for any drinks, brown paper is my preferred wrapping for food and for the life of me I cannot understand why our local supermarkets don’t offer us the option of brown paper sacks for our groceries instead of plastic carriers emblazoned with their names and logos, which they have the audacity to charge us for, even though we are doing them a huge favour by giving them our custom and an even bigger one by flaunting an advertisement for their stores.
And I have no truck whatsoever with those who discard their litter with no regard for the unsightliness and danger to sanitation their actions cause. As far as I’m concerned, we should bring back the mediaeval stocks, encase the perpetrators and pelt them with dirty food containers till they apologise!
But back to the beginning - The world, land and sea, is groaning under the weight of half a century of thrown-away plastic which has a shelf-life of centuries. Common sense tells us we do not need this sort of longevity in our packaging – we buy something, take it home and throw it away and so long as it lasts long enough to fulfil that function, it is fit for purpose.