Plas­tic not so fan­tas­tic

Do YOU want to live on Planet Plas­tic? Please di­gest this in­for­ma­tion, re­ally let it sink in so it will af­fect your be­hav­iour.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion - star2@thes­tar.com.my Jason God­frey Catch Jason God­frey on In­spir­ing Homes on Life In­spired (Astro CH 728).

WE live in an era of in­for­ma­tion. We turn on the news and see what’s hap­pen­ing across the globe, so­cial me­dia has con­nected us so that the things that hap­pen to our friends far away can feel like it’s hap­pen­ing right next to us ....

The prob­lem with hav­ing ac­cess to all this in­for­ma­tion is that it can have trou­ble sink­ing in. We’re so in­un­dated with info that, some­times, it doesn’t af­fect us.

Take for ex­am­ple a re­port from the BBC stat­ing that 8.3 bil­lion tonnes of plas­tics have been pro­duced in the past 65 years. They try to make that re­lat­able by telling us how much that weight is in things we can re­late to like:

> That’s the same weight as 25,000 Em­pire State Build­ings Or

> A bil­lion ele­phants

Both of which are just as ab­stract for me as the ini­tial talk of 8.3 bil­lion tonnes. I can’t pic­ture any of it. But, in­tel­lec­tu­ally, I do re­alise that the pro­duc­tion of this much plas­tic is ab­so­lutely hor­rific. Be­cause most of it ends up in the trash – and plas­tics don’t de­grade quickly. The av­er­age plas­tic bot­tle can take 450 years to biode­grade. That means that most of that 8.3 bil­lion tonnes of plas­tic waste is prob­a­bly still kick­ing around some­where, prob­a­bly wash­ing up on some oth­er­wise beau­ti­ful beach or stuck in the throat of some poor sea tur­tle.

And I know this. But on some level it’s easy to shake my head at this and go on suck­ing air and wait­ing for the new episode of Game Of Thrones. Too easy.

Apa­thetic.

That’s what all this in­for­ma­tion has made us. Apa­thetic to things we ab­so­lutely should be car­ing about. But read­ing about it isn’t enough. The prob­lem with most hu­mans is that we can know a thing but we can’t re­ally know it un­less we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it.

So that’s what we need to do. For me that hap­pened shoot­ing the doc­u­men­tary Trash Trail. On the shoot, I learned that those pa­per cups we get from our favourite cof­fee spot (you know the one, Star­bones or some­thing) are not re­cy­clable. Pa­per cof­fee cups, or the pa­per cups we get in gen­eral from most fast food out­lets, can’t be re­cy­cled be­cause of the plas­tic lin­ing that makes them wa­ter­proof. That lin­ing must be re­moved be­fore the cup it­self can be bro­ken down and the pulp re­cy­cled.

So, yeah, I found this out. And I know the av­er­age life­span of a pa­per cup is 15 min­utes. And I just have to look around to know that there are a lot of pa­per cups be­ing used but it wasn’t un­til I went into a pa­per cup manufacturing plant that this re­ally sank in.

At this plant there were huge bails of vir­gin (not re­cy­cled) pa­per – be­cause we want our dis­pos­ables to be made of the best stuff, I’m se­ri­ous – shipped in from north­ern Europe. These bails weighed in at a tonne each, were twice my height, and ba­si­cally looked like giant pil­lars. In the next room was an army of ma­chines be­ing used to churn all that vir­gin pa­per into the branded pa­per cup you may be drink­ing from right now.

Watch­ing those ma­chines curl and fas­ten and trans­form the sheets into dis­pos­able pa­per cups is what did it for me. Each pop from ev­ery ma­chine, sig­nalling the cre­ation of some­thing de­signed to pro­vide us with the slight­est of con­ve­niences. And that pop­ping noise was con­tin­u­ous. A water­fall of plas­tic-lined pa­per cups be­ing puked out, all des­tined for a land­fill or a ditch near you.

This is when I re­alised how waste­ful those pa­per cups ac­tu­ally were. I had to see it.

Sud­denly, the fact that pa­per cups have an av­er­age us­age of 15 min­utes hit home. All the ef­fort, to cut down forests, to ship these huge bails, to run that bat­tal­ion of ma­chin­ery, all of it so I could drink a crappy soft drink for five min­utes or so I can en­joy a cof­fee with­out hav­ing to re­mem­ber to bring my own mug.

Is that re­ally worth all the re­sources put into it? Is it worth con­tin­u­ing to breed this idea of dis­pos­able con­ve­nience in our so­ci­ety? An idea of dis­pos­abil­ity that has led to 8 bil­lion tonnes of plas­tic be­ing pro­duced and lead­ing to the BBC head­line, “Earth is be­com­ing a Plas­tic Planet” (tinyurl.com/ star2-plas­tic).

Know­ing 8 bil­lion tonnes of plas­tic have been cre­ated means we should let that af­fect us, and let it af­fect our choices as con­sumers. Maybe avoid buy­ing dis­pos­able plas­tics as much as pos­si­ble. It’s a small step but it’s some­thing ev­ery­one can do in their ev­ery­day lives.

Be­cause it’s not enough to read head­lines and know that things are hap­pen­ing, we have to re­ally know and re­ally un­der­stand to af­fect change.

Be­cause I’m sure you, like me, don’t re­ally want to live on a plas­tic planet.

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