Last night, another television documentary opened our eyes to the sheer scale of the plastic pollution facing our planet.
‘Drowning in Plastic’ saw wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin visit scientists working at the cutting edge of plastic research. Talking to scientists, inventors and fisherman, Liz showed viewers the true danger of plastic in our oceans and what it means for all life on Earth.
And it was tough viewing.
I was prepared for statistics – cutting Liz off by vocally finishing the fact she’d started saying multiple times in the programme. But I still wasn’t prepared for the sheer scale of the damage we’ve done to the planet.
We watched newly hatched shearwater chicks, on a remote island off the coast of Australia, unable to regurgitate effectively so they’re filling up on deadly plastic. We watched them vomit around 20 pieces of plastic into a bucket – only for scientists to say that wasn’t too bad compared to other cases they’d seen.
We then watched an emergency mission in America to save an entangled grey seal pup. The lacerations around his neck were so graphic, I was brought to tears even before Liz told us that he hadn’t made it through the night.
The tears remained as I watched rivers that had been turned into huge plastic arteries, transporting 50% of the plastic that arrives in the ocean.
And they remained still when I learnt about fishermen who are now forced to collect plastic to sell instead of fish because 60% of the fish species have died.
Even writing this, I can feel the emotion welling up again and a lump starting in my throat.
It was horrific.
But what I found even harder to swallow, was the fact that I can’t do more.
‘Drowning in Plastic’ was good because it did portray a glimmer of hope – from inventors and scientists including the 24-year-old behind The Ocean Cleanup – the 600-metre construction that will float across the ocean’s garbage patches to collect (hopefully) millions of pieces of plastic.
But that hope was balanced because Liz was clear that even with these schemes, more needs to be done at the source of the problem. With manufacturers and businesses and even governments, cutting down the production of new plastic. It’s all very well cleaning this plastic up, but it will be an endless cycle if we keep producing more of it!
This brings me on neatly to another documentary we watched recently – and last night, everything fell into place.
Minimalism was all about using and owning less. While pure minimalism is a bit much for me, the values behind it I could totally get on board with.
Only owning things that are of value; spending time with people and doing things you love over buying objects; clearing out unnecessary clutter.
It was refreshing. Looking at everything in your possession and asking, ‘what value does that bring to my life’?
Thankfully, they addressed the fact that book lovers didn’t need to get rid of that library they’d spent years building up – if books bring you pleasure, keep them. (RELIEF!)
And the same goes for everything else.
Minimalism also highlighted the problem of our ‘must have’ world; our materialistic values and our desire to consume.
So what does this have to do with plastic?
Well, it’s clear to me, that in order to really tackle the plastic problem, it’s going to take more than switching to a reusable cup and refusing straws.
We’re going to need a seismic shift in our attitudes and our behaviours.
Put simply, we need to consume less.
Think about online shopping, for example. We often order things online that we don’t actually need. The trouble is, these products often come wrapped in layers of plastic (ironically, plastic we also don’t need).
But we get sucked into buying products that are on offer, or get advertised to us through magazines or email newsletters. We’re not only spending unnecessary money, but we’re left to deal with unnecessary plastic too.
It’s not just online shopping that’s the problem. We all buy things we don’t need, myself included. And when we run out of products we do need, we buy things that are familiar to us without thinking of what they’re made with or packaged in. I suddenly looked at my make up bag and felt really guilty… do they even sell mascara that isn’t in a plastic tube?
Basically, I was aware that the plastic situation was dire, but I don’t think I quite grasped how dire.
And I’m fed up of researching ways to help and always being faced with the same suggestions – buy a reusable cup, say no to straws, buy loose fruit and veg and shun packaging…
There must be more?!
Cut down on our consumption – save money, get a grasp on what’s really valuable, and cut down on plastic in the process.
And hopefully, hopefully we’ll be making bigger steps to saving our environment.