Our plastic legacy

So, having not posted in a little while, I have three posts that I’d like to get out over the next few days, but with a couple of sick kiddies (especially my 9 month old baby), and me on the way down with the cold, we’ll see how we do.

I want to talk a little about our plastic legacy.

I know, I know, this is a money-saving site, you didn’t come here to read about landfill but:

  1. Money-saving and low waste do tend to go hand-in-hand and
  2. This is our only planet, so let’s try and do what we can to not totally mess it up.

So, I ask you to read this and try to think about it, and I’ll promise not to sound too preachy.



Plastic is everywhere. Most of our food at the supermarket comes wrapped in a plastic layer, we wear it on our body, this laptop I’m currently writing on has a plastic shell and plastic keys. And it’ s easy to understand why it’s become such a ubiquitous material. Plastic is cheap, it’s easily formed into whatever shape we desire and it doesn’t rust or rot.

And in that last clause lies the problem.

According to Science news, more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced. Most of which has now been discarded. Over half of that was produced in the last 13 years, thanks in large part to disposables. But plastic isn’t like potato peelings. You can’t just bury it and expect it to be gone in a few years, because plastic doesn’t decompose. Oh, it does break up into tiny little pieces, but I’ll come back to that later.

Let me just reiterate that point above. Plastic doesn’t decompose. That means that the plastic components of this laptop will last longer than my kids. This means that basically every single plastic bottle you have ever drunk from, every plastic toothbrush that you have ever used still exists somewhere. We throw things away in our house, but as they say in the documentary, A Plastic Ocean (check out youtube. The links keep changing, but you’ll find it if you keep looking), there is no ‘away’ on a global scale.

But what about recycling. Don’t local councils collect our rubbish every two weeks and cart if off to recycle it? Well yes, but according to the Guardian, only 1/3 of our plastics are recycled in the UK. In the US it’s only 9.5%.

So what about all of the stuff that ends up in the oceans?

It ends up being eaten by marine life, such as seabirds and whales. It’s suggested that up to 90% of seabirds have ingested plastic. They mistake it for fish, eat it themselves, or take it back and regurgitate it to feed to their young. The birds may starve to death because they cannot digest the plastic and they feel full.

The unaltered stomach contents of a dead albatross chick photographed on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific on Sept. 14, 2009.
Photo by Chris Jordan/USFWSHQ/Flickr


Or, if that’s not enough, plastic also degrades into microscopic pieces that end up in the foodchain of fish, disrupting their endocrine systems, making fish with messed up biological systems, including their reproductive organs. On a human level, we eat these fish, what would that do to us? And what will it mean for us all when fish stocks plummet? Such a large proportion of humans rely on seafish for food.

So, what can we do?

The easiest thing to do is to reduce the plastic that we create. I say above that the big increase in plastic usage is to do with disposables. So how can we reduce this?

Thanks the plastic bag levy, the use of disposable plastic bags has fallen by 84% as of 2015. I didn’t notice a major difference to my lifestyle, did you? Now I carry a couple of reusable bags everywhere I go. Not only do these come in handy in case I come across something I can forage, but it means that I forego the 5p bag charge (there you go, environmentalism and moneysaving going hand-in-hand) and I in turn am helping the environment.

We need to start thinking the same way about the other disposables in our life.

It’s not expensive to invest in a good travel cup. Some cafes offer a reduction to the price of a coffee if you bring your own cup. And frankly, if you have a good cup, you could skip the £3.00 charge and just bring your own from home. Many of the biggest coffee chains don’t pay UK tax, so I don’t worry about putting money in their pockets.

Same goes for sandwiches. It’s true that grabbing a chicken Caesar wrap is quick and easy, but you can make a sandwich for much cheaper at home and bring it with you in a lunchbox. Or if you prefer to grab something, ask them to make it fresh and put it into paper, not plastic. If enough people ask, shops will start providing paper.

And straws. Ever since watching a video of a sea turtle with a straw jammed up its nose, I avoid them. Feel free to Google that one, it’s not for the faint hearted. On zero-waste discussion groups people are always going on about reusable straws, and I always think, ok, that’s good that you’ve sourced stainless steel straws, but why bother? Humans don’t actually need straws to drink. Save yourself the money and the trouble. Even my 9 month old can drink from a cup sans straw.

stylish, but sensible?

 If you can there are lots of other ways to reduce your plastic waste, such as not bagging fruit and veg that doesn’t need it at the supermarket, or better yet, shop at the market, buying dried beans and lentils and soaking and cooking them, brewing your own beer and wine, making your own bread and pizza, or making your own yogurt.

We all want to leave something for the next generation. At this rate it’s looking like our legacy will be our plastic and the problems it causes.
So, please, next time you spend money, shop conciously. Think not only about how much something costs you, but also how much it impacts the earth. 

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