Not so fantastic, plastic

Feeling slightly dizzy, borderline numb reading the annual Sunday Times ‘Rich List’ last week, where I find myself pontificating on all manner of things such as ‘how do you process £21.05 billion (the fortune of this year’s number One on the list - a Brit, Jim Radcliffe who has made his fortune from ‘Chemicals’). Realistically, what would 21 billion pounds look like laid out in cold hard cash and then of course, what would I do if I had that in the bank (have a very long lie-in in a very large bed at first). But I was very happy to also read the alternative Rich List (that ironically is tucked deep into the ‘real’ Rich List like a huge contradiction - wholly, morally separate and nothing to do with its’ ‘filthy rich’ casing), I came across a very inspirational woman Jo Ruxton who has championed the cleaning up of plastic. A filmmaker, she has used the moving image to create ‘A Plastic Ocean’ to highlight how 8 million tonnes of plastic are floating around in our oceans and also inside the wildlife within them. As she so succinctly put it, ‘the meaning might not come from cash.’ Her point is extremely valid - if we don’t have a planet to live on and in, what will the point of cash be?

Plastic is a hot topic at the moment. Albeit a dirty one. The saying ‘the little things make the big things’ is never truer - straws are suddenly really bad news (especially when you consider that the USA alone uses 500 million PER DAY, yes, PER DAY) and now cotton buds are part of the bad brigade. Let’s not even go there with wet wipes, nappies, nappy bags - the list is apparently endless and so is the pollution. It’s only now with the conversation getting louder that it’s harder to ignore the problem. Take the Whitechapel Monster Fatberg for example. Is a mass of wet wipes, make up remover wipes, arse wipes, condoms and oil, the weight of 11 double decker buses even comprehensible? Possible? Answer, yes. Why? US. Me, you and humanity combined, discarded, flushed away, forgotten by you in an instant as it disappears down the loo in your comfortable bathroom. Except it has to go somewhere.


So shall we start thinking beyond the lovely clear water that appears at the touch of a button that takes it away like some obedient, wordless butler. Even worse to think this fatberg congealed into life and grew in a small corner in the East of London (and we live in a small country - imagine what Russia or the USA could produce). It took 9 long, filthy weeks to clear it.

So you see the scale of the problem is well, off the scale. And there is a lot of evidence to support that many of our illnesses we are giving to ourselves. Many of the major diseases are caused by endocrine disruption (auto immune, cancer, neurological and fertility) and plastics contain endocrine disruptors.


Another problem is the volume of plastic packaging in UK supermarkets. 2016 figures show that household plastic products thrown out totalled 1,119,000 tonnes of which less than half was recycled instead landing up in landfill or washed up in the sea. Often the packaging is completely over the top and unnecessary and that causes more problems - in the first place the food needn’t have such a plethora of plastic ‘protection.’ And then the surplus packaging means you need more bags to carry the goods home with. Once home the OTT packaging ends up in the recycling bin (although the truth is it’s not always recycled by the local authority) and ends up in the floating bin (ocean) anyway.

What’s the alternative? Remember our cloth bags and use good old brown paper bags instead? But we don't because we'll just grab another plastic bag at the counter (it's only 10pence!). Perhaps if ‘bags for life’ and plastic bags at the counter for 5p or 10p were no longer available (so it was a proper ban like the zero tolerance unleashed in July 2007 for smoking inside) then we’d take more care in remembering each time we went to the shop and do our own bit to help reduce plastic, wouldn't we?


Plastic's prevalence abounds becasue it’s too cheap and easy. A cause close to Sian Sutherland’s heart who set up the movement for ‘plastic free aisles’ in supermarkets last year and who now, thanks to her campaigning has made a fully free plastic aisle a reality, in a chain of 74 supermarkets in The Netherlands. Sian’s movement was born out of the frustration that she could buy almost everything free (dairy, gluten, fat but not plastic). Now the Ekoplaza chain of shops has more than 700 products in its aisle including meat, chocolate, rice, cereals in a casing that biodegrades naturally and quickly with no negative impact to planet or wildlife. So it is possible. Who’s next? The good news is that Waitrose and M&S are already in pilot projects with A Plastic Planet.

So, let's be realistic. Rather than reading it again and putting it under the proverbial carpet, let’s look at some alternatives (and maybe do one thing a week rather than trying to solve the problem ourselves, in an instant).

Milk floats and glass bottles make more environmental sense than milk in plastic bottles. Perhaps it’s time to revisist the milkman - many of them now are offering a free trial service.

Banish straws - there are lots of alternatives that you can use including a folding stainless steel straw. Completely re-useable and comes with your own brush so you can wash the inside or failing that, stick them in the dishwasher.

Eliminate clingfilm - the more flexible the material the more plasticisers are in it. Consider using tin foil which can be re-used or even greaseproof paper to cover food or use recycled glass jars with a lid.

Use a flannel - wet wipes and make up wipes contain a high proportion of polythene and they also are instrumental in fatberg creation. Go back to old school and use flannels. Ikea do a multi pack for about £3 which wash up great.

Consider tap water. We fail to recycle 16 million plastic bottles A DAY in the UK. Help bring in the sea of change by refilling a re-useable cup.

As filmmaker Jo Ruxton’s film, A Plastic Ocean dictates, ’Education is essential to solving the problem of plastic oceans. The lack of public awareness about the consequences of mass consumption of plastic and how their choices affect the environment needs to be addressed and this is what the film and it’s intended legacy aims to achieve.’

The power is with us, the people standing here on our planet, right now - you and me.

Little things make big things happen.