Tim’s Tips

Plas­tic waste

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

When I was a child or there­abouts, ev­ery­one was be­ing urged to stop us­ing pa­per bags, in or­der to save our dwin­dling rain­forests. Plas­tic was the thing, we were told. Now this pol­icy has come back to bite us on the bum, in the shape of tonnes of non-biodegrad­able plas­tic bags and pack­ag­ing (not to men­tion other plas­tic items) that are fill­ing up land­fill sites and, worst of all, slowly but surely chok­ing our oceans to death. We need to tackle this prob­lem, but is a plas­ticfree world a re­al­is­tic propo­si­tion?

In some ways, I liken this to the sit­u­a­tion we find our­selves in with ve­teri­nary and medic­i­nal prod­ucts. Sheep keep­ers in par­tic­u­lar will be fa­mil­iar with the term ‘an­thelmintic re­sis­tance’, the sit­u­a­tion which oc­curs when in­ter­nal par­a­sites, through re­peated ex­po­sure to the drugs used to tackle them, be­come re­sis­tant to their ef­fect and the an­i­mal you’re try­ing to treat will con­tinue to suf­fer and die. There­fore, in or­der to pro­long the use­ful life of a par­tic­u­lar ac­tive in­gre­di­ent we need to cut down on un­nec­es­sary us­age.

So, what’s the anal­ogy with plas­tics? Well, plas­tic is pretty good stuff for some things, but in or­der to be able to con­tinue to use plas­tics for es­sen­tial pur­poses it’s clear that we need to cut out un­nec­es­sary use, oth­er­wise our oceans are go­ing to con­tinue to suf­fer. And if the oceans are suf­fer­ing then we and ev­ery­thing else on earth are suf­fer­ing too.

So, what are we go­ing to do about it? Doorstep recycling boxes are now com­mon­place, which means that the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion is at least grow­ing up with the con­cept that we can’t just go on throw­ing stuff away, but whereas pa­per, tins and glass are fairly easy to seg­re­gate, plas­tics have a habit of slip­ping through the net. And some plas­tics aren’t re­cy­clable.

Bio-degrad­able plas­tics are used in some ap­pli­ca­tions, but I don’t think that pro­vides a sus­tain­able an­swer as it may take years for them to break down, by which time any num­ber of seabirds may have choked to death. And it’s not just large (vis­i­ble) pieces of plas­tic that are caus­ing prob­lems; tiny mi­crofi­bres are af­fect­ing the very heart of the global food web, which I think is the most wor­ry­ing as­pect of all.

So, al­though it’s not my habit to bang the eco-drum, I’ve come up with three things that I think small­hold­ers could be do­ing to help win the war against plas­tic. The three ‘effs’ – farm­ing, food and fash­ion.

Farm­ing

The agri­cul­tural in­dus­try (which in­cludes small­hold­ers) pro­duces quite a lot of waste plas­tic. There’s silage wrap (and net),

Tiny mi­crofi­bres are af­fect­ing the very heart of the global food web, which I think is the most wor­ry­ing as­pect of all.

polypropy­lene baler twine, an­i­mal feed sacks, lick buck­ets, ve­teri­nary medicine packs and so on. Farm­ers are no longer per­mit­ted to burn or bury this waste on farm, so it’s taken away for recycling, which is good. How­ever, we have to pay for this ser­vice on a per tonne ba­sis, and there’s usu­ally a min­i­mum charge (equat­ing to one tonne). There­fore the small­holder, who gen­er­ates only a lim­ited quan­tity of agri­cul­tural waste plas­tic each year, is tempted to sim­ply chuck it in the do­mes­tic dust­bin or on the bon­fire (both of which are il­le­gal) rather than pay up. It seems harm­less enough, un­til you mul­ti­ply it by the num­ber of small­hold­ers that are do­ing it! My sug­ges­tion is that groups of small­hold­ers work col­lec­tively to sub­mit all of their waste plas­tic for recycling, mak­ing the whole process more cost ef­fec­tive.

Food

Or rather, food pack­ag­ing. The more food you pro­duce for your­self the less pack­ag­ing will be re­quired, so that’s a good start. How­ever, when you do buy food items from a su­per­mar­ket there’s of­ten un­nec­es­sary plas­tic wrap­ping or poly­styrene trays to dis­pose of, over and above the sim­ple packet that was re­quired to keep the item clean and fresh. I sug­gest that un­nec­es­sary pack­ag­ing should be bun­dled up and re­turned to the su­per­mar­ket us­ing their freep­ost ad­dress, to­gether with a po­lite note sug­gest­ing that they try to re­duce their de­pen­dence on plas­tic. If enough peo­ple were to do this then the mes­sage might be­gin to sink in.

Fash­ion

Re­mem­ber those mi­crofi­bres I men­tioned ear­lier? They come from the syn­thetic clothes you wear. Ev­ery time you wash a fleece jumper an­other crop of tiny fi­bres goes swim­ming away down your drain and even­tu­ally they find their way into the sea. It’s like some kind of hor­ri­ble mi­gra­tion. I ac­cept that when work­ing out­doors we need a plas­tic outer layer in or­der to stay rea­son­ably dry, but for the rest of our cloth­ing we should pri­ori­tise wool, cot­ton, linen and leather. Given that many small­hold­ers are also pro­duc­ers of some of th­ese raw ma­te­ri­als it’s got to be a win-win sit­u­a­tion.

Agri­cul­tural waste plas­tic presents dis­posal prob­lems for small­hold­ers INSET: Plas­tic is ubiq­ui­tous in our lives... even on a small­hold­ing

Plas­tic waste is chok­ing our oceans

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