It was distressing to read the story of a whale that kept stranding on a beach in Norway and had to be put down. It's intestines were blocked with over 30 plastic bags, many from the UK.
It is devastating how little respect we have shown for the ecosystems that support life and the other creatures who share our planet. I am as guilty as anyone of enjoying this convenient disposable lifestyle. Just because I put some things into the recycle bin, it still doesn't make my waste Ok.
So immediately I signed a petition or two, but this really isn't going to cut the mustard if we want to prevent a whole pod of whales dying from our plastic rubbish. And it isn't just whales. Surfers Against Sewage state that
Over 100,000 marine mammals and over 1 million seabirds die every year from ingestion of and entanglement in marine litter.
So I went to the supermarket with my bundle of canvas bags for my shopping, and marvelled at some of the beautiful shopping bags people were using since the 5p charge for carrier bags took effect. This has definitely been a positive change, but it was delayed for far too long. Several European countries had taken action more than 10 years earlier, Ireland being one of the first. 90% of consumers in Ireland switched to reusable bags back in 2002, so their waters would be much safer for marine life..... if it wasn't for England 'sharing' their plastic waste. Whoever pollutes the sea, creates a problem for everyone.
At the checkout I was offered a free carrier bag to pack my already plastic wrapped meat products in. I have been accepting these bags recently, because it is virtually my only source of bags and I use them as bin liners. I really don't want to start buying bin liners, so now the question is can I manage without any? Would it really be so bad to tip all my rubbish loose into the big black wheelie bin? Or can I reduce my non-recyclable rubbish down to virtually nothing? I don't think either of those are practical at present, but maybe I can find some kind of paper bin liner alternative?
I had automatically used a small clear plastic bag on my broccoli - now I know I can cut those bags out. My home grown produce travels home in my wicker basket packaging free, except for salad leaves which I put in plastic bags that I wash and reuse repeatedly. This is a good motivator to grow even more veg myself this year. A year ago I was buying the rest of my fruit and veg from the market early on a Saturday morning. Some of the stalls use traditional brown paper bags for cherries or apples, and even if they have plastic bags you can ask not to use one and bring canvas bags instead. I have other activities on a Saturday morning now, but I need to find another suitable time to support my local market.
I have grown a new and unsustainable habit. I drive my kids to clubs and to save petrol travelling back and forth, I wait in the McDonalds round the corner. Bear in mind that it is winter and my parked car is cold and dark, so the one cup of tea, that I eke out for over an hour, is just an excuse to sit indoors and use the toilets. The 'cardboard' cups are of course lined with plastic, making them non-recyclable. I have some lovely mugs I can bring, but the frugal side of me likes collecting the stickers on the cups, so that I get a free cup of tea for every 6 cups I buy. I will bring my own mug from now on, or maybe even look for a cozy coffee shop that is open those hours instead.
Bottled water still occasionally sneaks into our lives, mainly when there is not enough forward planning, but we re-use the empty bottles and once they are in a fairly distressed state they go to the allotment to become cloches or end protectors for support posts. (They aren't any good for storing an excess of home made comfrey tea fertiliser in, as I learnt the hard way. The decomposing comfrey tea forms gases, that caused the bottles to explode all over my shed, smelling unbearable for weeks.)
Luckily you can ask for free tap water in most restaurants or bars in the UK. We used to have these lovely drinking fountains in every town or village, but sadly they have fallen out of use. You can look up water refill stations near you in the UK using this handy website. None are listed in Loughborough yet, but there are plenty in London. It was a surprise to find that I can refill my water bottle in Lush for example, who are not a restaurant but sell bath bombs and lotions. It makes me think that there are quite a few places that I can ask for water in future.
Then there is the food packaging itself.Why can't nuts and lentils be packaged in paper bags like flour is? I have all these lovely jars to keep my food fresh, yet the products still come home from the shop wrapped in plastic, so I am still creating plastic waste. I would be quite happy to bulk buy things like oats in sacks, but my problem is where can I get them from? If I order them online they arrive smothered in bubble wrap. Does anyone have an answer to this?
On a more positive note, a young inventor Boyan Slat has a designed a way to collect the plastic at sea and recycle it. It is great that the young people can find ways out of the mess we have created for them, but I feel there is too much at stake to rely on this alone to save our oceans from all our plastic waste.