It's not my bag, Man!

By chrisfraser64, Jul 3 2018 03:00PM

This is a tale of good news and bad news. Imagine a sandwich, one of those delicious sarnies you pick up from Waitrose... the bread is the good news... the wrapping … bad news.

The year was 2007, the scene, Modbury, Devon. The plot kicked off with a radical move by local shop keepers: extermination of plastic bags! Some offered alternative cloth bags; the art gallery wrapped paintings in old blankets; and the florist used biodegradable sheets.

How did this happen? I hear you cry. Well, local Modbury resident, Rebecca Hosking, was the inspiration. She had filmed a wildlife documentary in Hawaii showing heart-rending scenes of beaches littered with dead baby albatrosses, humpback whales, seals and turtles. All of them had perished as a result of filling their stomachs with plastic rubbish. She knew that something radical had to be done.

In less than a month, after showing extracts from the film to local shopkeepers, she convinced them to ban plastic bags.

Was this merely a local story. Oh no! The message spread to shopkeepers and councils throughout the UK. Years later in 2015, central government caught up and passed a law compelling large stores to charge 5p per plastic bag. The result has been that over 80% of customers have stopped using single-use plastic bags. Hoskins said, ‘The reason it has spread like bush-fire is because people wanted it to happen.’

Now for the wrapping round that sandwich – the bad news. We are only just beginning to realize the gigantic scale of plastic pollution. Most plastic in its current form has been manufactured in the last 70 years.

In 2017, industrial ecologist, Dr Roland Geyer reported that the total volume of plastic produced worldwide was 8.3 billion US tonnes. By 2015, the bulk of this, 6.3bn tonnes was waste.

A mere 21% had been recycled or incinerated – the remaining 79% had been buried in landfill or released into the natural environment.

In 1997, mind-bending photographs were taken by marine researcher, Captain Charles Moore. While sailing across the Pacific Ocean he saw a vast island of what he described as ‘plastic garbage’ twice the size of Texas. ‘The ocean will eventually spit this stuff out,’ he said, ‘but we have to stop putting it in.’

Another inspirational character, Peter Kohler, founded a campaigning group, The Plastic Tide. He said, ‘So far, we can only account for 1% of the total plastic in our oceans today, which begs the question; where is the missing 99%?’ He is launching a project to map plastic waste on beaches around the UK using aerial drones equipped with sensors capable of monitoring items of plastic. Once the figures are in, responsibility for clearing it will shift to local communities like ourselves and, with vigorous lobbying of our government, laws to prevent further plastic pollution.

Is that it? Oh no, more bad news! In the last two years reports have been issued relating to the impact of plastic on human health:

The Center for Environmental Health has issued a report that nearly 40 percent of American canned foods contain the harmful chemical BPA. This is found in plastic coating lining the inside of tins to prevent corrosion. The chemical is linked to obesity, cancer and birth defects.

The University of Hull and Brunel University, London announced that mussels bought from UK supermarkets were infested with 70 particles of microplastic for every 100 grams of each mussel.

Also, the World Health Organisation is launching a public health enquiry after a new analysis on bottled water revealing that more than 90% contained pieces of microplastic.

With a great fanfare, the UK government has produced a 25 year Environmental Plan with the aim of working towards eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by end of 2042. How much more plastic pollution will have been generated by this time?

Let’s return to some good news. Closer to home, a new shop has just been opened in Bridport by a young entrepreneur, Lydia Wilson called Waste Not Want Not. She sells organic, unpackaged, plant based whole foods and invites you to ‘rejoice in plastic free shopping!’ You bring a container of your choice to the shop, weigh, fill, weigh again and pay. Simple but ingenious!

Is it all down to inspirational individuals to deal with plastic pollution? So far, it seems like it.

Forgive the pun, folks but that’s a wrap.

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These are a series of talks I gave as part of the 'Apothecary' spoken word meetings at the Beach and Barnicott in Bridport