‘I hope this is the start of something good. Hopefully we’ve seen the error of our ways and people can take more care of each other and the planet – we can see now it can be done’. My sister then changed the channel over from the news report and settled onto a programme all about crafts. I sat silent. I hoped so, I really did. However, in my view many people want to see change, but a lot of people don’t want to be change, particularly when change interrupts their easy consumeristic lifestyle. The cycle of consumerism is too addictive, and addiction traps you in a continuous cycle. With politicians and governments that thrive on monetary power, that power then furthers the country’s economic success, and that economic success is supported by consumerism. It leads back to the individual.
In the light of this pandemic, the risk to lives is great. We were told wash your hands for at least 20 seconds a day. We were told to clean. We wore plastic gloves, plastic masks (a non-woven material made with polypropylene and/or other poly materials) (Henneberry, 2020), plastic aprons and plastic visors. Supermarkets started delivering shopping in plastic bags; hand sanitizer came in plastic bottles. Plastic, along with social distancing, helped protect us against spreading the virus. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel this undercurrent simmering of revulsion. Plastic had become ever the more necessary, yes, but it didn’t take us as a species that long to forgo that which we fought hard for- a cleaner plastic free environment.
Reusable material shopping bags, for most, has become a thing of the past, and according to statistics, ‘plastic production [is] already projected to increase by 40 percent over the next decade’ (Malik Chua, 2020) with Environmentalists concerned that plastic companies are exploiting people’s fears over the contamination of material bags over plastic. However the virus can live on plastic for days after being contaminated, much the same as with reusable products, however unlike plastic bags, material bags can be washed in the dishwasher, killing the virus.
But I reassured myself, the planet will recover from this as we will from this pandemic. So, I kept my head low and throughout lockdown, I’d wash the produce the delivery man placed on the doorstep, and roll up each plastic bag into tight spirals, that I would save for filling bins or storing washing. I ridded myself of the images of plastic floating within the ocean, straws up turtles noses, dolphins trapped mouthed in plastic bottle seal caps, and seabirds stomachs crammed full of bottle tops.
Then, a few short days later, I came across a report that microplastics are now found within fruits and vegetables. I was shaking. How can this be?
Firstly, let’s just revisit – What is plastic?
The chemistry behind the form of all plastics are the links formed between atoms and molecules, producing a polymer, hence the name given to various types of plastics, polystyrene, polypropylene and so on (Plastics, 2018).
And plastic has been fantastic! It has provided us humans with the means of an array of materials for human progression. Plastic has unique properties that enable them to withstand varying temperatures, are resistant to chemical abrasion and light infliction, they can be malleable and strong, (Andrady and Neal, 2009) and with this need for plastic, consumerism has driven the cost down to mean that plastic is affordable.
Unfortunately, microplastics have now been discovered to exist within our fruits and vegetables. The water that nourishes crops contain microplastics. Microplastics are small amounts of plastic that are formed when larger pieces biodegrade. They are so small they filter through the water system and transferred through the roots of our plant foods. Research found that, ‘microplastics can be absorbed by the roots of lettuce and wheat crops and transported to edible parts of the plant above ground’(Sky News, 2020). What’s more, it is known that we already digest microplastics through meat and dairy products and bottled water!
Shocking and yet, surprising? Nevertheless, top Environmentalists and campaigners are calling for more research and funding into this economic and health crisis. Surely we are all of the one mind? We all want to see change- and earth, through lockdown, allowed us that vision. We saw, with the removal of human interference, the world started healing itself; waterways ran clear, animals ran amok through cities and towns, reclaiming what was once theirs. LA and China’s air became noticeably less polluted and collectively we made change. Change for the better!
And then images of Bournemouth beach shocked the world. People from out of town came bustling onto the beaches, exercising their rights of liberty to go and infect as many people as they could, without the need to remember the sacrifice others had made for their righteous nonchalant attitude, as one beach goer quipped, ‘Everyone’s just doing what they want’ (D’Albiac, S, 2020). And for all of the carers, teachers, those in essential jobs and of course the NHS workers, it’s no longer a two-handed clap, but instead a metaphorical two fingers up. But hey, it was a beautiful day, right?
But as shocking and as disgusted as I was to see my beautiful hometown rampaged, what shocked me more what was left behind. The huge amount of litter; plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic wrappers, plastic dog poo bags full of human waste, plastic sanitary products and plastic food containers all among the carnage. Commentators called them animals- called them pigs. I thought that was a little harsh. As we saw in lockdown, animals are notably cleaner and more considerate to mother earth. They keep it clean!
Residents went along the very next day and tidied up the seaside, the war on waste resumed. They bagged up the motherload of all rubbish collected on a seafront in the UK.
Ultimately there is a need for the general mindset to change, a psychological shift needs to take place for people to take accountability for the world they share, not only with species of their own kind, but species of the ‘other’ too. Whilst groups of humans swarm the ever-growing cities and urban epicentres, going about our busy lives, there is a small minority of individuals eager to do good, for not only the human race, but the Earth as well. For the majority of polluters, we live in a consumerist western world. We take what we can get and give little back in return. We think it owed to us, it’s our fundamental rights to exhume and exhaust all sources. We need to un- instil this sense of ownership, that humanity equals entitlement. Or whether money states whether we are successful or not- that money gives us our worth. And where money used to come from trees – now it’s made from plastic. Plastic can be fantastic, but plastic has created drastic changes to our landscape, the lives of other beings, the Earths lungs and body, and our own bodies through the food we consume. We are systematically poisoning ourselves. With recent research into the consequences of this Covid-19 pandemic on the environment, reports of surgical masks and gloves, alongside marine animals, have been found washing up from the ocean hundreds of miles away from the source, with thoughts as to whether marine animals are now consuming the plastic masks and PPE in our oceans, as Gary Stokes from OceanAsia said, ‘It’s just another item of marine debris […] just another item we’re leaving as a legacy to the next generation.’ (Kassam, 2020)
If we want to break this cycle of plastic pollution, we need to make changes as to how we live. And it isn’t hard – it’s simple. Through simple swaps to reusable biodegradable products, where we can, it can drastically change the prospects of the future of our planet. Small changes can make a huge difference. That difference starts with us. And let us not forget, to be the change we want to see, we need to collectively work towards keeping our ocean and land, plastic free.
- 3devo, 2019. Introduction To Polymers. [image] Available at: <https://3devo.com/blog/introduction-to-polymers/> [Accessed 28 June 2020].
- Andrady, A. and Neal, M., 2009. Applications And Societal Benefits Of Plastics. [online] Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2873019/> [Accessed 29 June 2020].
- CNBC Makeit, 2020. A View Shows Clearer Waters By A Gondola In A Venice Canal On March 17, 2020 As A Result Of The Stoppage Of Motorboat Traffic, Following The Country’S Lockdown Within The New Coronavirus Crisis. [image] Available at: <https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/18/photos-water-in-venice-italys-canals-clear-amid-covid-19-lockdown.html> [Accessed 29 June 2020].
- D’Albiac, S ‘Everyone’s just doing what they want’ – people explain how they feel about being on packed Bournemouth beach’ available from https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/local-news/bournemouth-beach-why-people-visit-4270684 (Accessed 29.06.2020)
- Henneberry, B., 2020. How Surgical Masks Are Made, Tested And Used. [online] Thomasnet.com. Available at: <https://www.thomasnet.com/articles/other/how-surgical-masks-are-made/> [Accessed 30 June 2020].
- Kassam, A., 2020. ‘More Masks Than Jellyfish’: Coronavirus Waste Ends Up In Ocean. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/08/more-masks-than-jellyfish-coronavirus-waste-ends-up-in-ocean> [Accessed 30 June 2020].
- Malik Chua, J., 2020. Plastic Bags Were Finally Being Banned. Then Came The Pandemic.. [online] Vox. Available at: <https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/5/20/21254630/plastic-bags-single-use-cups-coronavirus-covid-19-delivery-recycling> [Accessed 30 June 2020].
- npr, 2014. A Dead Young Albatross On The Midway Atoll In The Pacific Ocean. [image] Available at: <https://www.npr.org/2014/06/17/322959714/plastics-dont-disappear-but-they-do-end-up-in-sea-birds-bellies?t=1593607579357> [Accessed 30 June 2020].
- Plastics, P., 2018. What Are Plastics?. [online] Plastics Make It Possible. Available at: <https://www.plasticsmakeitpossible.com/about-plastics/types-of-plastics/what-are-plastics/> [Accessed 30 June 2020].
- Science learning Hub, 2019. Microplastics From Fish Gut. [image] Available at: <https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/2809-how-harmful-are-microplastics> [Accessed 29 June 2020].
- https://news.sky.com/story/microplastics-found-in-fruit-and-vegetables-prompts-call-for-urgent-investigation12015049#:~:text=Microplastics%20have%20been%20discovered%20in,the%20most%20contaminated%2C%20studies%20show.&text=The%20research%20highlighted%20%22worrying%22%20estimated,veg%20than%20from%20bottled%20water. (Accessed 29.06.2020)
- The Sun, 2020. Plastic Bags Strewn Across Bournemouth Beach. [image] Available at: <https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/11959325/bournemouth-beach-rubbish-major-incident/> [Accessed 26 June 2020].https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/bournemouth-beach-rubbish-heatwave-major-incident-a4480776.html
- The Sun, 2020. The Animals Are Taking Advantage Of Lockdown Britain. [image] Available at: <https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/11310477/deer-east-london-coronavirus-lockdown/> [Accessed 29 June 2020].