As we have said before, we can pick up plastic from beaches, we can design ways of hoovering it out of the ocean, but the only way to end pollution in the sea is to stop it from entering. Some scientists argue that care has to be taken with beach cleaning to not make it seem like an acceptable answer to the problem – it’s an interesting point. Because of this, we’ve been looking at plastic and what we have to do psychologically to end our addiction, because even if we don’t think we are addicted to it, we are.
The crux of the matter is since day one plastic has been sold to us as a disposable item. From the 50’s and 60’s when my parents first came across it, it entered the world’s psyche as something that would make life easier, as you could use it, then throw it away. Thus plastic, (at least single use stuff) has had very little value attached to it – you don’t think you’re paying for it in a fast food restaurant, or in packaging, even though you actually are. The second problem is in the developing world. Having this throwaway commodity has been looked at as a sign of progress. Those paper bags or wicker baskets they used to use, which were environmentally sound and reusable, are now shunned. What is more there is no endgame for the waste.
Whilst here in the UK we have recycling, or recycling for some plastic, in a lot of south east Asia there is no such facility, and in many cases no garbage collection at all. So it is either burnt or chucked in a river. Both make sense when you have no other options, but the point of this is that we as a race have sold plastic as a cheap disposable commodity, so it’s no surprise we just throw it away. So, what can we do? This is the million dollar question, and is the hardest part of solving the plastic situation.
We’ve been looking closely at different generations and asking them their attitudes towards plastic. My parents and friends are in their 70s: plastic for them was a revolution. Yet, whilst they do recycle, they perceive plastic, especially single use, as a cheap throwaway commodity so it’s not unusual to see it thrown in a bin. My rough generation from 30-50 are really more savvy about recycling, but we still have a throwaway mentality engrained in our brains when it comes to single use stuff – we’re an overworked generation who grew up with Starbucks etc.
But then there is the youth. From 2-22, these are those idealistic freaks who believe they can change the world still, and they can. Whichever surf movie that said grommets are the future was right here. From doing talks it’s obvious that the young have it in their hands and think that single use plastic is bad and other plastic is a capable commodity. As a result of my last talk at Paddle Round the Pier, a 40 something said it was all too late, we’re doomed, a nine year old lad and his sister said they were going to organise a beach clean, and that they asked their mum and dad to buy everything they can not wrapped in plastic.That kind of sums up where the issue lies: older generations were told plastic was the throwaway cheap super material to make their lives easier post-war. But, as you get younger the attitude changes. They see it as the toxic nightmare it really is and so it is the youth that will save the world.