Viva Column: Not-So-Fantastic Plastic

If you’d told teenage me that by my mid-thirties I’d get cheap thrills from accepting disposable coffee cups at the supermarket I’d have said, “don’t be stupid” through a cloud of Camel smoke. Yet, here I am, my takeaway beverage having reached new experiential heights.

It’s unnecessary. It’s antisocial. It feels as though I’m clutching on to a tiny bit of that wonderful pre-Blue Planet devil-may-care consumer satisfaction.

A local campaign group called Plastic Free Lewes is gaining momentum. They have meetings, posters, ideas. As I write there’s an online discussion about whether to build or borrow a recycling machine that functions like an apple press for Waitrose ready meal cartons. The group formed in January, after a rallying cry screening of Plastic Ocean at the Depot. The initial thought was to target something specific but, Lewes being Lewes, it soon became clear we wanted a multi-pronged attack. There are now eight sub-groups looking at ways to tackle plastic waste from different perspectives: from schools and supermarkets to drinking water and waste disposal.

Whatever they’re doing, it’s catching. On the school run, I see parents stand around Hannah’s Van holding neon bamboo cups from Popsicle. I’m just about keeping myself suitably charged from my Bodum cafetiere to ensure that four-month-old doesn’t sleep for more than two hours at a time. Except she has tonight, so I’m writing this with my head next to her cot to make sure she’s still breathing. She had her vaccinations today and unhelpfully she slept through what should be her second dose of Calpol. I inspect the sticky single-use syringe and wonder what the future may hold. 

By 2025, will Boots stock giant vats of Calpol that desperate parents can help themselves to from a tap? It will be like Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory care of big pharma. Our bathrooms will look pretty. We can store our analgesics in bevelled-edge recycled glassware from Flint.

The long and short of this is how helpless one feels when confronted by such a huge systemic problem as waste plastic. A carrier bag is easy to substitute, but it’s hard to find data measuring the impact of the plastic handles in the jute bag you replaced them with. 

A poster for Plastic Free Lewes says we’ve produced more plastic in the last ten years than we did in the previous century. The more you inspect the objects around your home, the more overwhelming becomes the thought of going without. Is Zero-Waste living something like bivouacking in consumer society? Dependent on insider knowledge, hacks and tricks to circumvent or replace the products like Calpol? I find Facebook groups abuzz with questions from eager converts exclaiming things like, “I love reading, but it feels like such a waste of paper”.

Still, over weeks, I find this nagging guilt is subtly altering my behaviours. I rebooted my veg box; bought lentils in a paper bag; rediscovered Ebay and ponced my auntie’s Soda Stream. One thing I realise, however; it’s not enough to buy cloth nappies, you need to use them too.

Published in Viva Lewes, April ‘18

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