THE PLAS­TIC AGE

CHRIS HINES, THE ONLY SURFER WE KNOW WITH AN MBE (FOR SERVICES TO THE EN­VI­RON­MENT), EX­AM­INES THE SOURCE AND SO­LU­TIONS TO THE OCEAN PLAS­TIC PROB­LEM. IT IS A FIGHT WE HAVE TO WIN.

Carve - - CONTENTS - Chris Hines was a found­ing di­rec­tor of SAS lead­ing the cam­paign from 1990 to 2000, Di­rec­tor of Sus­tain­abil­ity at the Eden Project and a spe­cial ad­vis­ers to the Min­is­ter for En­vi­ron­ment, amongst other things.

En­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paign­ing leg­end, and all round top bloke, Chris Hines de­liv­ers a well-bal­anced es­say on the topic du jour.

Plas­tic. It’s ev­ery­where, from the mo­ment you hit the alarm on your smart­phone to the clean­ing of your teeth at the end of the day with your plas­tic tooth­brush and tooth­paste from a plas­tic tube. Most of us will touch, see or in­ter­act with plas­tic hun­dreds of times a day, me in­cluded. It’s the cur­rent norm and one of the re­sults is the al­most un­be­liev­able level of plas­tic pol­lu­tion in the oceans.

Back in 2006 in an es­say I wrote for Andy Hughes’ bril­liant book Dom­i­nant Wave The­ory (*1). I did a lit­tle beach clean and then looked at how all of those bits of plas­tic were, in some way, con­nected to my life … and it’s the same for all of us. We are all deeply em­broiled in this plas­tic prob­lem and we are all go­ing to be in­volved in the so­lu­tion to it. Many peo­ple are do­ing lots of in­di­vid­ual ac­tions but that’s a tiny per­cent­age of us and this plas­tic cri­sis isn’t go­ing to be over­come on the fringes and, I would ar­gue, the so­lu­tion is about far more than plas­tic. We need main­stream change.

If plas­tic pol­lu­tion is ev­ery­where it is nearly out­weighed by the num­ber of peo­ple and or­gan­i­sa­tions who are on the plas­tic cam­paign trail and the cam­paign­ers are on fire with Surfers Against Sewage lead­ing the charge. Aware­ness is at an all time high. The pop­u­la­tion want this sorted but ul­ti­mately a long-term so­lu­tion to our pol­lu­tion of the planet will re­quire a dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude and one that a lot of peo­ple, es­pe­cially busi­ness aren’t go­ing to want to hear:

We have come to be­lieve that we can, and should be able to, have as much of any­thing we want, when­ever we want it and don’t even think about the con­se­quences. Con­sump­tion has been dis­con­nected from any moral com­pass and we’ve lost our way.

The eco­nomic struc­tures of the ne­olib­eral western world are all based around growth. More, more, more! Re­search from Biore­gional shows that if all seven bil­lion in­hab­i­tants want to con­sume like the av­er­age North Amer­i­can then we would need five plan­ets. For the av­er­age Euro­pean it’s three. (*2). The planet does not have that car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity. It doesn’t work. The growth ad­dicts have even stolen the term “sus­tain­abil­ity” and come up with “sus­tain­able growth”! On a sin­gle planet there is no such thing!

There are mas­sive pow­ers stacked up to keep sell­ing us this ver­sion of the world, to keep sell­ing us more. But much of it is a hoax, brought to you by ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies that make you feel in­ad­e­quate be­cause you don’t have the lat­est phone, surfboard, bike or what­ever. And those agen­cies are just work­ing for the com­pa­nies who want to sell you more and more. With built in ob­so­les­cence and con­stant de­vel­op­ment, the mo­ment you buy some­thing its al­ready out of date and we’re con­stantly in­vent­ing an­other hun­dred things that we all must have. Our re­la­tion­ship with plas­tic is just a symp­tom of a life in dis­cord.

One quick plea for cli­mate change: Whilst the plas­tics is­sue is im­por­tant we also need to re­mem­ber cli­mate change. It’s not as vis­i­ble and whilst ev­ery­one is fix­ated with plas­tic, cli­mate change is not get­ting as much at­ten­tion. Re­mem­ber it’s the same peo­ple who are giv­ing you cli­mate change who are giv­ing you plas­tic pol­lu­tion. Those good old oil com­pa­nies!

When Surfers Against Sewage started back in 1990 our pri­mary aim was to stop the 400 mil­lion gal­lons of raw sewage that the Dirty Man Of Europe (the UK’S en­vi­ron­men­tal nick­name in the 80s and 90s) crapped out into our coastal wa­ters ev­ery sin­gle day. Mixed in with that sewage were count­less plas­tic panty lin­ers and con­doms. Iron­i­cally hav­ing the plas­tic panty lin­ers helped, as it made the sewage slicks more vis­i­ble. The his­tory of those first ten years of Surfers Against Sewage shows what can be achieved and in what timescale. The in­fras­truc­tural change to go to

from 400-mil­lion gal­lons crude, to all con­tin­u­ous sewage dis­charges re­ceiv­ing at least sec­ondary treat­ment and ter­tiary treat­ment for two thirds of that took 15 years and a mas­sive en­gi­neer­ing project worth £5.5 bil­lion. The dif­fer­ence be­tween 1990 and 2005 (and now) in terms of the sewage in our coastal wa­ters is like chalk and cheese. Porth­towan Beach used to be known as 'Porth­tam­pon' (we even man­aged to get 'Porth­tam­pon' into a House of Com­mons Se­lect Com­mit­tee re­port) with hun­dreds of panty lin­ers and con­doms com­ing in with the slick of sewage ev­ery day. When they weren’t get­ting stuck in your hair or wrapped around your legs or leash, they’d dry and blow up the road and onto the fore­court of the vil­lage shop. Thank­fully they and the sewage have now 99 per­cent gone.

But in some ways we had it easy. There was tough Euro­pean leg­is­la­tion such as the EC Bathing Wa­ter Direc­tive (1976) and the EC Ur­ban Waste­water Treat­ment Direc­tive (1991) to act as a fo­cus and a ref­er­ence point, a stick with which to chase the pol­luters with. The UK gov­ern­ment was do­ing its best to wrig­gle out of its obli­ga­tions and hence the need for the SAS cam­paign of the 1990s. Make no mis­take that was still a very tall chal­lenge. Un­be­liev­ably the whole plas­tics prob­lem has hit with­out any rel­e­vant leg­is­la­tion be­ing in place. Nei­ther the EC Waste Frame­work Direc­tive (1975) EC Haz­ardous Waste Direc­tive (1975) re­ally took plas­tic into ac­count, al­though maybe there could have been a le­gal chal­lenge over plas­tic waste be­ing haz­ardous , but yes you got it, no-one saw this com­ing! So this is chal­leng­ing and com­plex work to even have the le­gal, leg­isla­tive tools with which to force ev­ery­one to the ta­ble. Un­for­tu­nately many of the big play­ers will sim­ply not en­gage un­til they are forced and that force has to have teeth that can bite.

SAS have al­ready helped se­cure some vi­tal bits of leg­is­la­tion Sin­gle Use Car­rier Bags Charges (Eng­land) Or­der 2015 and a gov­ern­ment com­mit­ment to a na­tional de­posit re­turn sys­tem for some plas­tics but there are still more needed be­fore all the le­gal sticks are in place. We need gov­ern­ment to match the level of com­mit­ment and pace be­ing shown by the cam­paign­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions. We need to be cut­ting off the tide of plas­tic pol­lu­tion now. Per­son­ally I think it is an out­rage when a gov­ern­ment says it will sort ex­ces­sive plas­tic pack­ag­ing within 25 years! I can see the ar­gu­ment of time needed to change leg­is­la­tion and in­fra­struc­ture, but 25 years … come on! The su­per­mar­ket Ice­land and other in­dus­try lead­ers are do­ing it now and blaz­ing the trail. There is al­ready a mas­sive waste man­age­ment in­fra­struc­ture in the UK and the vast ma­jor­ity of waste, plas­tic in­cluded, is ei­ther re­cy­cled or col­lected through house­hold col­lec­tions and dis­posed of to land­fill or in­cin­er­a­tion, but it will need more work and in­vest­ment. This isn’t go­ing to be easy but it can be done. Again back to the sewage there were cer­tain com­pa­nies Dwr Cymru/welsh Wa­ter and Wes­sex Wa­ter who pushed the bound­aries and changed the game.

Ocean plas­tic is an emer­gency and of global im­por­tance. Imag­ine turn­ing up at an in­ter­ga­lac­tic plan­e­tary hos­pi­tal Ac­ci­dent and Emer­gency Depart­ment and Planet Earth and The Oceans are scream­ing: “Save me! Do some­thing, this HURTS! and the Gov­ern­ments/doc­tor say­ing: “Hm­mmm let’s do some con­sul­ta­tion on this.” Re­al­ity is the whales are wash­ing up full of plas­tic crap like some self-sac­ri­fic­ing suf­fragettes, the al­ba­trosses are scream­ing and dy­ing.

The dan­ger of too much con­sul­ta­tion is that the Bri­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium, the soft drinks in­dus­try etc. and the plas­tic pro­duc­ers along with big oil will all lobby hard to de­lay it, legally chal­lenge it and ul­ti­mately hope that the whole in­fer­nal is­sue just goes away.

But let’s just take a step back and look at this whole plas­tic is­sue. Is plas­tic in it­self an evil? It’s safe to say that plas­tic has had a pro­found af­fect on us as a species as well as the planet and there have been a lot of pos­i­tive ben­e­fits as well as the down­side. Many of us read­ing this to­day will have ben­e­fit­ted from the med­i­cal uses of plas­tic in life sav­ing med­i­cal equip­ment. The easy to use con­tra­cep­tive pill pack­ag­ing that showed the day of the month helped rev­o­lu­tionise women’s abil­ity to take con­trol of when to have chil­dren and con­trol of their lives. The use of plas­tic in cars and other forms of trans­port helps re­duce weight and there­fore re­duce the CO2 foot­print and hence has a ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect on cli­mate change. There are many other ex­am­ples.

As surfers and peo­ple who have an in­ter­est in surf­ing, climb­ing, cy­cling, ex­plor­ing and gen­eral out­door ac­tiv­i­ties plas­tic has ben­e­fit­ted us. Plas­tic will have played a mas­sive role in open­ing up th­ese sports and ac­tiv­i­ties due to de­creases in weight and in­creases in dura­bil­ity. There was even a 1969 surf movie called The Fan­tas­tic Plas­tic Ma­chine!

So plas­tic is not in it­self nec­es­sar­ily bad, it’s the way we use and abuse it.

Re­search (now known as in­ter­net searches) tell you the first to­tally syn­thetic plas­tic, Bake­lite, was made in 111 years ago in 1907. The bril­liant Ra­dio 4 se­ries Plas­tic Fan­tas­tic (*3) (lis­ten to all three parts its bril­liant) said that the first plas­tic was in­vented in a con­test to find a re­place­ment for the ivory for ele­phant tusks used to make bil­liard and snooker balls. Im­por­tantly it was cheap and there­fore com­mer­cially vi­able. One web search shows: “…it had no mol­e­cules found in na­ture…” Now if ever there was a rea­son for cau­tion that should be one. If some­thing is to­tally un­nat­u­ral then “Pro­ceed with cau­tion!” signs should have been flash­ing up. Off went the sci­en­tists work­ing hard to develop other plas­tics such as poly­styrene, polyester, polyvinylchlo­ride (PVC), and oth­ers. The oil in­dus­try must have loved it! Not only did their liq­uid black gold cre­ate en­ergy by burn­ing (again an­other un­nat­u­ral ac­tiv­ity that has helped land us in a right old pickle with cli­mate change and air pol­lu­tion) but they could now make hun­dreds of thou­sands of prod­ucts from it.

Of course there were a few in­con­ve­nient ob­sta­cles to re­move such as hemp - the per­fect nat­u­ral, re­new­able al­ter­na­tive. Henry Ford of Ford Mo­tors made car pan­els out of hemp and even planned to run them on bio­fuel. So the plant was de­monised and linked to its rel­a­tive mar­i­juana and heavy lob­by­ing by the likes of chem­i­cal gi­ant Dupont saw the 1937 Pro­hib­i­tive Mar­i­juana Tax Law that made not only mar­i­juana il­le­gal but also the won­der plant hemp. The Duponts of this world were joined by Wil­liam Ran­doph Hearst, a me­dia mag­nate who owned 75 per­cent of the news­pa­pers in the USA, and wanted all of the pa­per to be sourced from his log­ging com­pa­nies and not hemp. (Any­thing sound­ing fa­mil­iar?) Just think what the world and our oceans would be like if hemp had been the ma­te­rial used in the mass ex­pan­sion of our

OCEAN PLAS­TIC IS AN EMER­GENCY AND OF GLOBAL IM­POR­TANCE

con­sumer world…

The plas­tic and oil in­dus­try came out post Sec­ond World War with a clear play­ing field and very few crit­ics. Ev­ery­thing was white, shiny and clean! Big pro­duc­tion was king. The con­sumer age was upon us and off it ran com­pletely out of any re­straint or un­der­stand­ing of the long-term plan­e­tary im­pacts. Our world be­came plas­tic. As Poly­styrene (and X-ray Spex) sang on the Germ Free Ado­les­cents al­bum (*4):

I drove my polypropo­lene Car on wheels of sponge Then pulled into a wimpy bar To have a rub­ber bun

And watched the world turn day-glo You know you know

The world turned day-glo

You know

Oh-oh

The X-rays were pen­e­trat­ing Through the lay­tex breeze Syn­thetic fi­bre see-thru leaves Fell from the rayon trees

And watched the world turn day-glo You know you know

The world turned day-glo

You know

Oh-oh

Find it and play it LOUD!

After leav­ing SAS in 2000 I worked as Sus­tain­abil­ity Di­rec­tor at the Eden Project and orig­i­nated the Waste Neu­tral con­cept. This fol­lowed the nor­mal waste hi­er­ar­chy of “re­duce, re­use and re­cy­cle” but had an ad­di­tional el­e­ment of buy­ing back a weight of prod­ucts made from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als that was equal to the resid­ual waste that Eden sent to land­fill, or to be re­cy­cled. This had two ef­fects: Firstly it en­cour­aged a re­duc­tion in all con­sump­tion as re­duc­ing the weight of ma­te­ri­als sent to be re­cy­cled meant we had to buy less re­cy­cled prod­uct. Sec­ondly it gave value to the re­cy­clates, which helps pull them out of the waste stream and turn them into a re­source. If some­thing has a value it isn’t thrown away. This is sim­i­lar to the cir­cu­lar econ­omy now be­ing pushed hard by the likes of the Ellen Macarthur Foun­da­tion, but first con­ceived in 1966 by Ken­neth Bould­ing in an es­say "The Eco­nom­ics of the Com­ing Space­ship Earth" of­ten cited as the ori­gin of the phrase "cir­cu­lar econ­omy". (*5)

We need to be re­al­is­tic and un­der­stand that the op­po­si­tion to pos­i­tive change is huge. The UK plas­tics in­dus­try alone has an an­nual turnover of over £23.5 bil­lion and em­ploys over 170,000 peo­ple. The global plas­tics mar­ket is pro­jected to reach $586.24 bil­lion US dol­lars by 2021 and the plas­tics in­dus­try is sup­plied by the oil in­dus­try.

Th­ese com­pa­nies aren’t go­ing to give up easily! They’re go­ing to fight this ev­ery step of the way. In fact they don’t see re­duc­tion in plas­tic at all, they see… yes you guessed it… GROWTH! Big oil com­pa­nies are see­ing their mar­ket for com­bus­tion en­gines con­tract­ing so they need new mar­kets for the base prod­uct and that means more plas­tic. Right now there will be hun­dreds if not thou­sands of peo­ple look­ing at new mar­kets and new prod­ucts that can be made of plas­tic.

We need a marked change in the way we con­sume in gen­eral and we need to re­de­fine our re­la­tion­ship with plas­tic and we need to own that change as the mass pop­u­la­tion. I re­cently spent two days talk­ing to over a thou­sand stu­dents at a school in Geneva. They haven’t waited for oth­ers to act. They’ve re­moved all the plas­tics from their food out­lets. They call it: “The new norm!” The planet and its oceans need a “New Norm!”

I don’t want this to feel neg­a­tive and I am an op­ti­mist. The cam­paign­ers are do­ing an amaz­ing job and it feels like we could be on the cusp of turn­ing this whole plas­tic is­sue around but have no doubt there is a long hard way to go yet. To solve this is ar­guably more com­plex than solv­ing sewage as it’s such a wide is­sue with so many play­ers and prod­ucts in­volved, but it can be done. I will con­tinue to pay my subs to the en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and would strongly urge you to do the same (How can any surfer not be a mem­ber of SAS or your coun­tries equiv­a­lent? I’ve paid my mem­ber­ship for 28 years now and will con­tinue to do so till the day I die). I will con­tinue to sign the pe­ti­tions, to talk to oth­ers, to say ‘No’ to things I don’t need or of­ten even want and love and look after the things I have. Cher­ish them, value them and when you’re done try and find an­other home for them or dis­pose of them in the right way. I will try and do my bit and would urge ev­ery­one to do the same.

Fun­da­men­tally we need to have a wider un­der­stand­ing of our roles as cit­i­zens of this planet. We need to think about and un­der­stand our foot­prints. No one is per­fect and re­al­ity is we can’t be but we can think and chal­lenge our­selves and live a more ex­am­ined life. This doesn’t have to suck the joy out of our lives but can be­come a quiet el­e­ment of how we live. We need to think of what I re­fer to as: “The Deal”. For the ma­jor­ity of us, we are lucky. We’re warm, we’ve got homes and we’ll eat to­day and we get to live here on this amaz­ing planet and do amaz­ing fun things. For us as surfers we even get to GO SURF­ING! We are the luck­i­est! The deal is we give back, we make a dif­fer­ence with our lives and we tackle the plas­tic prob­lem as part of the wave of ac­tivism that helps us tackle all of the world’s prob­lems. And if we can com­mit to that deal then it’s only fair that we de­mand that gov­ern­ment and busi­ness change … NOW. Step up and lead! Com­mit to the take off! We’ll be hoot­ing you all the way!

FUN­DA­MEN­TALLY WE NEED TO HAVE A WIDER UN­DER­STAND­ING OF OUR ROLES AS CIT­I­ZENS OF THIS PLANET.

*1. Dom­i­nant Wave The­ory by Andy Hughes, Booth-clib­born ISBN 1 86154 284 4 Hughes, A. (2007). Dom­i­nant Wave The­ory. (1st ed.). Lon­don: Booth Clib­born Edi­tions.

*2. https://tinyurl.com/y7jop9ad

*3 BBC Ra­dio 4 Plas­tic Fan­tas­tic Pro­fes­sor Mark Miodownik ex­plores our love/hate re­la­tion­ship with plas­tic. https://tinyurl. com/y8ytbmn5

*4 Poly­styrene and X-ray Spex, The Day the World Turned Day­glo.

The Day The World Turned Day-glo" / "I Am A Poseur" (March 1978: EMI In­ter­na­tional, INT 553) – No. 23 UK Sin­gles Chart[41] From the al­bum Germ Free Ado­les­cents (Novem­ber 1978: EMI In­ter­na­tional, INT 3023) – No. 30 UK Al­bums Chart[41]

*5. As early as 1966 Ken­neth Bould­ing al­ready raised aware­ness of an "open econ­omy" with un­lim­ited in­put re­sources and out­put sinks in con­trast with a "closed econ­omy", in which re­sources and sinks are tied and re­main as long as pos­si­ble a part of the econ­omy.[2] Bould­ing's es­say "The Eco­nom­ics of the Com­ing Space­ship Earth" is of­ten cited as the ori­gin of the phrase "cir­cu­lar econ­omy".[2]

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