I am sick and tired of plastic packaging. I hate throwing away empty packets and picturing them sitting unchanged in a landfill site for decades. I hate that plastic finds its way into the ocean, hurting and killing marine animals and washing up on beaches. I hate the apathy of corporations and governments, who prioritise money over the planet.
And I hate how difficult it is to opt out of this system. Some people are now living a zero-waste lifestyle, and I have nothing but admiration for them. I do buy loose fruit and veg where possible, and choose paper or glass packaging if available. But certain products like pasta and dried beans always come wrapped in unrecyclable plastic.
The packaging on many products is completely excessive. For example, fruit often comes in a plastic punnet wrapped in plastic netting. One supermarket near me even sells individual bulbs of garlic wrapped in netting! It’s absurd and unnecessary.
Though I do have a local health food shop which sells things loose, it’s considerably more expensive than shopping at the supermarket. Since I have no stable income, it’s not feasible for me to buy everything there. The same goes for my local greengrocers’, where many things are sold loose.
Then there’s the conflict between different types of ‘ethical’ product – for example, organic and FairTrade bananas often come in plastic packaging, whereas the loose ones are conventionally grown. It’s hard to know which ones to choose.
It’s not just food, of course – our entire culture is based around disposable and single-use products. But it’s generally simpler to replace non-food items with sustainable alternatives.
It’s not fair that the burden of making ethical choices falls on the consumer. People have busy lives, and many don’t have the time or money to go out of their way to make the best possible choices. Of course we should all do as much as we can, but we can’t choose ethical products if they aren’t available in the first place.
There’s no reason why the majority of things couldn’t be packaged in paper, cardboard or glass. Even a shift towards hemp plastics would be beneficial. But the sad truth is that industries won’t change unless their profits are threatened. The only way to get them to take notice is to kick up a fuss. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of people either haven’t thought about it or don’t really care.
The issue of plastic waste may seem minor compared to all the other problems the world is facing, but it’s bigger than it seems. For example, there’s so much plastic in the oceans that a vortex of debris known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has formed. As most plastic isn’t biodegradable, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces which make the water appear cloudy. There are as many as 1.9 million pieces of plastic per square mile of the patch.
The implications are huge, with countless marine mammals dying after becoming tangled in discarded fishing nets, and other creatures dying after mistaking colourful plastic for food. Debris can also block sunlight, which threatens algae and plankton and thus disrupts the whole food web. Plastics also release harmful chemicals into the water when they break down, damaging the environment and human health.
Then there’s the environmental damage caused by the manufacture of plastics. Most are made of fossil fuels, and the manufacturing process releases carbon monoxide, dioxin and other pollutants. These can cause various diseases and illnesses in humans. The incineration of plastic also releases hazardous chemicals.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the negative impact of plastics. More than anything, our use of plastic shows how little respect we have for our planet. It’s a symptom of a far bigger problem – humanity’s attitude towards nature and the environment.
Maybe we can’t all be zero-waste, but we aren’t powerless – there are various affordable ways to reduce the waste we produce. Becoming conscious of it is the first step; when you put something in the bin, think about where it will go afterwards. Most of us wouldn’t throw an empty packet onto the ground or into the sea, but that’s effectively what happens when we send things to landfill.
We can also be more conscious about what we buy – for example, if we get our kids cheap plastic toys, they’ll probably break and have to be thrown away. Wooden toys last longer, and biodegrade when eventually discarded.
I don’t mean to sound judgemental – after all, I still throw things away myself. I just think it’s very important to be aware of our impact. If we make more positive choices, corporations will sit up and take notice.
Do you think we have a responsibility to reduce our own waste, or should it be down to the government and individual companies? Leave a comment below.