[BLOG] Life in plastic - is it really so fantastic?

by Stephanie Beecroft

 twitter @Steph_Beecroft

I don’t know about you, but my social media feeds have recently been flooded with articles, posts and videos about plastic. Yes, plastic. It’s perhaps not that surprising, when you think that in recent weeks, World Environment Day on 5 June focused on beating plastic pollution, and just one week earlier, the European Union put out a proposal to ban some single-use plastics as part of its action towards a circular economy. Single-use plastics? Things like plastic straws, cups and cutlery, and that entirely unnecessary packaging the supermarket sells bananas in. Things that are produced from our natural resources, only to be used once, thrown away, and frequently end up in our oceans.

Full disclosure at this point: last night I was served a drink with a plastic straw, and this time, I didn’t think to say, “I don’t need a straw, thank you”. But if the EU’s proposals move forwards, in time, I won’t need to remember to say “I don’t need a straw”, because businesses will no longer offer me plastic ones. Banning certain single-use plastics isn’t going to solve all the world’s problems, of course. As a standalone policy, it won’t even solve the problems of over-use of resources, massive amounts of waste, and pollution in our oceans. But it could be an important step.

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While they might have a longer life cycle than the single-use version, so many of the things we use in everyday life are also made from plastic: from your toothbrush, to the bank card in your wallet, to the casing on your mobile phone charger, to your sunglasses, to those polyester, nylon or acrylic T-shirts and sweatshirts sitting in your wardrobe. 

We need everyone to start a journey on the path of less

Plastic is everywhere, and yet very little is done to manage plastic waste once products are discarded. A massive 91% of plastic is not recycled and 79% of plastic waste is left to languish in landfills or litter our natural environment, on land and at sea.

Is plastic the only reason why our planet faces human-made destruction? Definitely not. But as a material made from fossil fuels and with so much of it littering our land and polluting our oceans, it is certainly a culprit. There are alternatives; plastic-free options are out there, but they are often harder to find or more expensive to buy.

But this is not just about plastic. Our love affair with plastic is a symptom of a broader, more systemic issue of unsustainable production and overconsumption.

No longer using plastic straws is one thing. Making a decision not to buy new clothes in the latest fashions, the latest gadget or that picture to brighten up your apartment, choosing not to fly across the world for your holiday, or to give up your car – these are all choices that can be much harder to make in our current consumerist culture. Taking time to repair your old clothes, fix your broken toaster or find someone who can lend you the tools you need to do that, is difficult in the fast-paced environment of this ever more connected world.

You might be familiar with the 3Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. But what if we added some more and worked within a system of reduce, reuse, repair, reuse, recycle?

We need to shout a little louder to persuade governments to change the rules of the game.

In a world where it is cheaper and much easier to buy a new printer than it is to fix the one you already own, we still have a long way to go. But as the creators of the film Demain (Tomorrow) told us – all over the globe, solutions already exist. Young people are out there co-creating and communicating about those solutions – we need to shout a little louder to persuade governments to change the rules of the game so those solutions can thrive.

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Last week I was in Dublin for a Youth Up Europe debate, linking youth, sustainable development and next year’s European elections. I asked the audience to raise their hands if they had decided to reduce or give something up in order to live a more sustainable lifestyle, and looked out onto a forest of arms raised high. Almost every single person in that room had made a change to their consumption patterns, confident that they would be contributing in some small way to setting the world on a more sustainable path.

But we need everyone to start a journey on the path of less. For sustainable production and consumption to become a reality across Europe, we need governments, businesses and people to commit to change. 

To change the game, we need to recognise that our current way of life in Europe is not sustainable, and change our lifestyles to make a difference. For governments, this means placing restrictions on unsustainable practices and making sure that the burden of choice doesn’t always rest on the consumer. For young people, it means leading by example and pushing governments and companies to do more. To change the game we need to tell positive stories about the benefits of enough.

Our love affair with plastic must not be allowed to destroy the planet. Our own search for fulfillment must not leave future of generations of young people without hope. It’s time to look for alternatives. It’s time to say “enough”.

 

This article is part of a series on the some of the things that need to change for a sustainable future and the role of young people in the process.

Also read our other blogs:

Why we need to care about Sustainable Development

Not another “AAAH! Robots are stealing our jobs!!!” article

It's an Unequal World. But does it need to be?

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