Our Plastic Addiction

Almost every piece of plastic ever produced still exists. Most of it will still be here long after the human race wipes itself out.

Since the airing of Blue Planet II there seems to have been a real awakening about our plastic use. Maybe it just seems like a lot is changing as I drink in stories about this kind of stuff. Most people are probably still pissed about the 5p plastic bag charge. Either way, any change that is happening, isn’t happening fast enough. We need to be really honest with ourselves and see that we are the problem. And see that the beauty of being the problem means that we are also the solution!

We are currently in the middle of #plasticfreejuly – if you aren’t participating, it’s not too late to start! A good way to start is by carrying out a plastic audit. Keep a log of all of the plastic waste you generate (recyclable or not) to see just how many single-use items you are contributing to the problem. From here you can see the areas that you most need to work on and begin to change your behaviour to #breakfreefromplastic .

Plastic addiction 1

The plastic we use doesn’t just come out of nowhere, it has to be made. Plastic is one of the many evil children of crude oil – that black gold that Big Oil will stop at nothing to get, even if it means destroying vast swathes of thus far untouched natural beauty.  Every stage of plastic’s life cycle is bad news for the environment. From oil extraction, transportation, plastic production, and finally disposal. When you see a video of yet another oil spill or the opencast mines that oil companies generate as a consequence of their quest for ever harder to each pockets of oil, you probably aren’t happy about it. But it often stops there. We don’t make the connection between millions of sea birds dying from an oil spill and that bottle of water bought at lunchtime. This needs to change. We need to be aware of and understand where the things we spend our money on actually come from.

A pelican covered in crude oil during the Gulf Of Mexico oil spill

Plastic bags have to be one of the worst plastic offenders. The infographic above shows that annually we use 500 billion plastic bags a year. That’s every year. It seems stupid that we create something – we waste all that time, energy, and resources – only for it to be thrown away.  Recently a number of countries have banned the production and use of plastic bags – Kenya, Chile, Ethiopia, Brazil, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa, China, and Bangladesh. These countries are classed ‘Less Economically Developed Countries’ and yet they have managed to something that places like the UK haven’t – implement a total ban plastic bags. A lot of countries in Europe have imposed bag charges but that doesn’t solve the problem. All of the countries that have imposed total bans on plastic bags have seen a vast improvement in plastic pollution levels. I think it is easier for those of us in European countries to ignore the problem of plastic pollution as we aren’t directly confronted with it. Whereas in the countries listed above, they experience the consequences of plastic pollution first hand. Until everyone accepts responsibility for this problem, there is no hope of solving it.

Plastic addiction 2

The oceans and it’s wildlife are what feel the impact of our plastic addiction the most. The plastic we’ve used is found in all oceans globally. Plastic is a relatively new invention and animals are not evolved to be able to avoid it. Nor should they have to be. We have all seen the pictures of birds, turtles, whales who have turned up dead with a stomach filled with plastic. It’s heartbreaking because it’s our fault but I think most people (including myself) care momentarily and then you get distracted.

A turtle trapped in a plastic can ring pack and is deformed because of it.

poor baby

Simple changes in our lifestyles could prevent the deaths of over a million of animals at sea. Avoiding plastic doesn’t have to mean that you suddenly cut out massive parts of your life – it just means making better choices. A habit takes just 3 weeks to create, so we really have no excuse. For example, plastic can rings are another poster boy for plastic pollution – you see them wrapped around some poor ocean creature that is deformed because it got stuck in it when it was small. When you buy a pack of beer or whatever buy ones that come in a cardboard carrier or that has some other more eco-alternative to the plastic deathtraps. Also, if you do have these on cans you already have, ALWAYS break up the rings, so if it does end up somewhere it shouldn’t be it won’t cause as much damage.

Plastic addiction 3

The ocean currents are at the core of maintaining climates on Earth. Without the ocean doing what it does it would be (almost) exactly like the film The Day After Tomorrow. The ocean does it’s part through the flow of energy between the equator an the poles – the temperature differentials create the ocean currents (and are indirectly responsible for all the other weather). But these currents distribute more than just heat. For the last century they have been shunting plastic, in ever increasing quantities. Eventually the plastic gets trapped in a tight gyre (ocean circulation cell) and becomes part of a garbage patch.

An array of plastic in the ocean - seen from underneath

The most notable one is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. No one is sure exactly how big this is but estimates place it between ~700,000km2 and 15,000,000km– that is the equivalent of Texas and Russia, respectively. That is a HUGE amount of rubbish where rubbish shouldn’t be.

Plastic addiction 4

Plastic doesn’t break down. So once it’s in the ocean, it stays there. The oceans are heading towards a perfect storm of factors that will ultimately render them baron of all life – climate change, chemical pollution, fishing, and plastic pollution. This is all down to us. There is an attitude that because it happens way out there it won’t/doesn’t affect us. International waters are a minefield of bureaucracy – no country wants to accept responsibility for anything that goes wrong out there but they all want to be a part of reaping the benefits.  This is what is happening with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Umbrella and other human waste thrown out into the coastal waters, settling on the ground becoming marine life habitat, Moluccas Islands, Indonesia, December 2009

It is NOT okay that we have allowed this to happen.

As often is the case, where  governments won’t step up, it is left to NGOs to fix the problem. The Ocean Clean Up Project claims to be able to clean up 50% of the garbage patch within 5 years. This is an amazing project but the amount of plastic entering oceans today is greater than ever before so how much of a dent in the actual amount of plastic in the sea it will make remains to be seen. This project has not yet been deployed and is still in the final stages of testing – it is due to be deployed fully within the next couple of years.

Plastic addiction 5

Taking the plastic out of the ocean is only solving half the problem. We have to stop it getting in there in the first place. It starts with you – making better choices when you shop. Become a conscious consumer. Think about what you are buying, where it’s come from, and where it will go when you are finished with it. If your favourite products still uses plastic in their packaging, contact them and let them know you aren’t happy about this. Maybe start a petition. McDonald’s will be switching to paper straws in their UK outlets by 2019, as a result of a customer campaign. Companies will listen to their customers as you are their paycheck.

Most coffee shops give you a discount for bringing reusable cups. I feel like this concept could be applied to pretty much any outlet where you can buy things. For whatever it is, if you bring your own container, you get a small discount. People respond to incentives. Morrisons (a UK supermarket) now allow you to use your own containers at their butcher and deli counters. So there are shifts happening. However, many supermarkets will refuse to serve you in a home container for whatever reason.

Easy everyday home plastic reduction:

  • Tubs, pots, jars etc. – you can invest in some nice snazzy ones or just use empty food containers. Empty food jars are cute when all cleaned up, highly reusable, and free!
  • Beeswax wraps. You can buy some online (avoid Amazon as there is a boycott currently happening) or you can make your own. These make a great replacement for cling film!
  • Try refillables. If it can be filled once it can probably be filled again.
  • Have a go at DIY. Most DIY home things I’ve found are actually really easy, effective, and inexpensive. You can basically clean your whole house and yourself with a handful of products.

Plastic pollution is a global problem with a local solution – it starts with you. You can’t change anyone but yourself (you can try though!).

There are two problems here – our throw away culture and the material that that culture is built upon. We need change the material of products that we use for a couple of minutes of convenience – which will then sit in landfill, or worse, the ocean for centuries. OR stop using throw-away products. Both would be great.

If you have anything to add let me know in the comments!

Jessica xx

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34 thoughts on “Our Plastic Addiction

  1. Nina @ Gone Roaming says:

    We try to cut out plastic as much as we can as well. Most of the time it is not that hard, but sometimes it sneaks up on you! Having a drink at the seaside and *BAM* straw in your soda. Forgot to ask to leave it out… Buy a sandwich thinking it was in a paperbag, *BAM* lined with plastic … -.-‘
    But as you said, think global & act local. Every little bit helps 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. colettebytes says:

    Ah, Plastic is such a problem. Recycling is also a problem, as such a large percentage of a new product must contain a large proportion of newly created (from oil) plastic polymer. The best form of disposal is burning in specially created furnaces with scrubbers to remove noxious gases, yet these are sadly missing…they could actually create power plants specifically to deal with plastic waste… But nothing has been done on that idea.

    We do not buy water or pop in plastic bottles, except for tonic (for our gin) occasionally. We have refused most of our plastic containers…using supermarket food trays to hold plant pots, or seedlings. We use bigger food grade plastic containers as buckets or to store left overs in our fridge. We have never bought a fancy range of food containers (Tupperware or facsimiles), because it seems so wasteful.

    As for plastic bags…. To shop, we use our own washable cloth bags which I sew with reinforced stitching for strength. They work brilliantly. And we never forget to take them with us on a walk, because we just might see something to buy.

    The trips we take to Asia, bring us into contact with huge volumes of plastic bags. Everything, it seems, is delivered in a plastic receptical. It is here that we see vast quantities of plastic rubbish entering the sea and it is here that there is sporadic collection of household waste, especially in places like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. For us, we keep every plastic bag given to us. We flatten them, roll them up and take them home with us. Our household waste goes into them… And it takes a long time to use them up, because we try to recycle or reuse much of our waste. It saves us having to buy rolls of garbage bags (something we haven’t done in 12 years).

    We will not fix the problem of plastic use in general, but we do try to deal with the plastics in our life as responsibly as we can. For instance, used toothbrushes become things that I use to clean crevices where dirt accumulates (base of taps, etc).

    The answers won’t come easily… Replacements like glass, pottery and paper, have huge energy costs (More greenhouse gases), and are an inconvenient and questionable step sideways to the problem.

    In the end, we will have to approach life with less waste. One-use products (of any description) need to be deployed with only food safety in mind and never convenience. We can all try, just that little bit more to be good citizens and not leave our waste to cleanup by other people, or alas to mother nature, who is ill equipped to break down our materialistic creations.


    • colettebytes says:

      PS We keep all of our jam jars and bottle picked fruit in them. We live in a very small space on a Narrow boat, so if we can do all these things, so can most people.

      I should add, that we need to lose this desire to have showcase homes that we use to impress our friends and family. It results in wastefull makeovers, new furniture (when the old was perfectly OK) and a huge tendancy to put everything a bit unsightly into the garbage bin. This has to stop if we are ever to get around our continual waste.

      Liked by 2 people

      • jessicaleecole says:

        How wonderful! I think people (myself included) would do well to take a leaf out of your book! I agree with the decorating point, most of the time it is done so unnecessarily and it just seems like so much waste!

        Liked by 2 people

    • jessicaleecole says:

      Very well put. I read that 80% of the plastic in the ocean comes from Asia, which is frustrating especially when there seems to be such an effort elsewhere. Thank you for reading and such an informative addition! 😊

      Liked by 2 people

  3. A. Shepherdson says:

    The real tragedy is most thermoplastics CAN be recycled and manufactured into different products……………… all that’s needed is Government’s to make the product producer pay for reusing what they first produced!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. abigail m haddock says:

    I only really became aware of the perils of plastic pollution early this year. I formed a challenge to not use, buy or throw away plastic for two weeks called The Plastic Pause Fortnight from March 1-14th and started a Facebook group page dedicated to education and providing alternatives to single use plastic. The group now has over 1,000 worldwide members. Personally I have made many changes in my life in an effort to reduce my plastic footprint. I have a reusable stainless steelwater bottle, hot beverage bottle, take out food containers and straws, a bamboo toothbrush and homemade toothpaste, homemade bees wax wraps, cloth and mesh produce and grocery bags. I have removed plastic containers of all kinds from my home and now use glass containers. I started a worm compost bin, spinning compost bin and yard waste compost box thereby reducing my trash from two plastic bags a week to 1/2 a paper bag. I now have a smaller waste pick up can and will soon have curbside pick up only 2 times a month. I now shop at Farmer’s Markets and Food Coops to reduce plastic packaging and I have a large vegetable garden. I have spoken at our local town council about banning single use plastic, was written up in two newspapers and speak about plastic waste regularly. I have become a Plastic Warrior. Soon I plan on developing a website with a blog and possibly a book.
    All this in just a few months! If a 63 year old woman like me can do this then just think what we all can do to make changes. You are all most welcome to join our Facebook group which is non political, non partisan and without borders. https://www.facebook.com/groups/862611360593475/


    • jessicaleecole says:

      While that would be a great start to solving the plastic crisis we’ve created, unfortunately, the problem is far bigger than that. The problem really needs to be solved at the source – we need to stop producing and using plastic. Even if that were to happen immediately, there would likely still be more than enough plastic to make plenty of new roads! Thanks for reading 🙂


  5. Vernon says:

    Hi Jessica,

    I’m guilt.

    I’m one of those person you talked about caring for a moment then getting lost in the cares of the day.

    As I was reading this wonderful and informative article, I could feel my concern increasing.

    It’s going to take a conscious decision and prayer to change my bad habits as for as plastic is concern.

    The blessing is I’m willing.

    Keep up the good work here and thanks for following my blog.

    I appreciate that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jessicaleecole says:

      This was so heartwarming to read! We’ve all been there and it’s gotta start somewhere, right? As long as you’re trying it is a step in the right direction!
      Thank you so much for reading and good luck with your journey to world filled with a little less plastic. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sifar says:

    Plastic is such a monster! We really need to control at the source as well…the production of it and the government should strictly enforce the ban. Here in my state, plastic ban is coming into effect gradually…it was implemented last month after weeks of awareness drives and rallies against using plastic, and finally it got banned. I very happy about it though certain sections are protesting against it. But it has not been that hard to adjust to a life without plastic! It can be done. Everyone is using a paper or cloth bag and there is a fine of roughly $70 if someone is caught using a plastic bag, and $150 if caught second time and jail if caught third time!!!! Kind of strict but something on this scale is really needed. That video of a turtle in pain due to a plastic straw stuck inside nose and it getting pulled out painfully was such a shrill reminder of what we are doing to the oceans due to plastic!

    Liked by 2 people

    • jessicaleecole says:

      Yes, I agree. I think strict rules like us what is needed, people take notice when their bank accounts are on the line. It isn’t that difficult to not use a plastic bag, it just takes some minor adjustments in behaviour! Thanks for reading 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Sunshinysa says:

    Thank you Jessica for putting out this eloquent post.
    I crochet my bags and use that when shopping but yes, plastic does creep it.
    Deeply saddening to think that some are so selfish and self absorbed, that they do not even consider their misdeeds, (like littering). Drives me crazy when I see this. Parents need to educate their kids, its simple, like remembering manners. As we mind our adults and fellow human beings, so too, must we mind our environment and other creatures.

    Liked by 1 person

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