There is so much talk in the media and on social platforms about us humans needing to make a change. Needing to reduce our plastic waste, needing to reduce our green house gases. But there isn’t much talk on how to make those changes. The talk centres around big changes and our planet being swamped with plastic pollution. I don’t know about you but those words sure as hell put me off doing anything. Change can be daunting enough but when people tell me a change needs to be big…. I’m sitting down and doing ziltch! But we need to remember it’s the little changes that make the big difference.
“Our world is swamped by harmful plastic waste. From remote islands, to the Arctic, nowhere is untouched. If present trends continue, by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic than fish.”
It’s not up to us….
One of the issues I have with a lot of the news articles that cover the plastic pandemic we have caused, is that they highlight what governments and politicians are doing. Well, I guess that is great in many ways. These are the people that can make permanent changes to systems and practices. They can hold companies accountable for the plastic they use and produce, if it comes to that (and it probably already should have). However, it makes it seem like it isn’t up to us to do anything. As if we can just sit back and let the big corporations make the changes on our behalf. Now in some cases this may happen, such as MacDonalds changing their straws to paper straws (I will touch on this more later as I still have a bit of beef with this one). Wonderful, a change has been made and we didn’t need to do anything. Even the politicians didn’t need to do anything so I bet they are laughing their pants off in the back of their big diesel fuelled, chauffeur driven Mercedes.
“Straws are one of those things that people feel passionately about, and rightly so, and we’re moving those straws behind the front counter.”
The thing is, politicians lie. We know this, it isn’t news and it isn’t a revelation. So why do we insist on believing that they will do anything at all? Now, they might. And I suspect a few will genuinely try. But once plastic waste stops being the buzz word of the moment so will their empty promises.
Plastic Bag Tax
In 2015 a plastic bag tax was introduced in England (and now the whole UK), this meant that to have a plastic bag from any retail outlet, with more than 250 employees, you had to pay 5p per bag. There was outrage. How could the government dictate this? What are we supposed to use instead?
People failed to realise that a huge number of people were already using a ‘bag for life’. They are bigger so you could get one small shop in a single bag rather than five or six. They are sturdier than the plastic bags, so you were less concerned about a bottle dropping out of the bottom just as you got home. All people had to do was invest in a couple more bags for life and remember to take them to the shop. It really wasn’t going to be a drama.
“The 5p charge on single-use plastic bags in England has contributed to a reduction of nearly 90% in their use, the government said.”
I frequent supermarkets all too often, and I assure you, someone who has done their weekly shop and not used reusable bags stands out much more than someone who has used their reusable Waitrose bags in a Sainsbury’s supermarket (oh the horror).
And just to prove that that one single, quite insignificant change has had an impact a recent study was released that shows plastic bag use has dropped by nearly 90% since the introduction of the 5p tax. Because of this there are plans to extend the tax to all retail outlets.
Bring it on, I say!
Straws are the next big thing people want to tackle. And rightly so after images of turtles with straws stuck up their noses have been going viral. It is estimated that 8 billion straws are used in the UK each year and that in the US 500 million straws are used A DAY! Those are mind boggling numbers that I can’t even begin to comprehend.
“You use a straw for 10 minutes, and it never goes away.”
This brings me back to my MacDonalds beef. MacDonalds have highlighted this and say that their customers have asked not to be given straws but instead would like to have to ask for them. Great. This should, hopefully, greatly reduce the number of straws used. However, MacDonalds, as well as some other outlets and companies, have taken the step to change from plastic to paper straws. In many ways this is a good thing as it reduces the plastic waste. But haven’t we been here before? You know, with the trees? I mean, seriously, have we learnt nothing from history. And seriously recent history at that! We know huge amounts about WW2 in the 1940’s but have we seriously forgotten the rainforest damage we have and are still causing in recent times? Paper straws may be the start but they are far from the answer… We could all just sip our drinks like bloody adults. Just saying.
It’s The Little Changes That Make The Big Difference
I am aware this is getting a little ranty and preachy and I really don’t want that to be the essence of this post, so bare with me whilst I rein it in a bit. Politicians and big corporations are not going to make the big changes for us. It is up to us. So instead of thinking about them as big changes think of it like this…..
As an Average Joe reading this blog, perhaps you don’t use that many straws a week or even a year. What difference can an Average Joe make? Lets assume you use an average of one straw a week. Thats 52 straws a year. So it would be reasonable to assume that you could easily live without those 52 straws in your life. Not much compared to the 8 billion mentioned above is it? It wouldn’t make much difference would it? Can you sense a ‘but’ coming?
BUT think about this: there are an estimated 1.03 billion people living in the first world. It is safe to assume that not all of those people are going to eradicate their plastic straw use but let’s live in a positive world and say that 40% do. Obviously some people will use more straws than others, but for the sake of argument lets assume everyone just uses 52 straws a year (a gross underestimation I suspect). If 40% of the first world population stopped using 52 straws a year that is 7923077 straws a year. Now that is HUGE! That is nearly 8 million straws.
You could even argue that if the whole of the first world population gave up just 52 straws a year thats 198 076 923 less straws a year. One hundred and ninety eight million seventy six thousand and nine hundred and twenty three less straws per year. That’s progress alone right?
Taking all these enormous figures into account it is safe to say that there are many people that use more than 52 straws a year. So if all those people stopped using single use straws all together than a huge change has been made. This is how it’s the little changes that make the big difference. Not so small now all the Average Joes have made a change, is it?
We Have Made Changes Before
It is easy to forget that we, as society, demanded these changes in the first place. The supermarket was born from the desire of convenience. My Grandmother remembers shopping in green grocers and butchers, having to select everything individually before heading home with a hessian tote bag or bike basket full to the brim. She remembers the birth of the big supermarkets where people could finally get all their weekly needs in one place. These supermarkets have been so successful because they have listened to the demands of us over the years. Average Joes. We loved having it all under one roof but now we wanted it all prepackaged. Why stand and wait for Ethel from next door to finish meticulously weighing out her potatoes and apples for the week when the supermarket can bag them up in prepackaged kilo bags for us? A quick, convenient pick up and run so we don’t have to slow down our busy lives. We asked and the supermarkets answered. If we start asking for less packaging and opting for individual items over prepackaged than supermarkets will listen. Their survival depends on it.
The future is down to us. Not the large corporations or politicians that shout loudest for your votes. You and me, Average Joes. It is easy to forget the power us Average Joes have, but collectively we are more powerful than any government in any universe. If we all start changing one thing, huge ripples will be caused. If we can learn to block out all the noise and off putting propaganda, we can make huge changes as a collective by making small changes as individuals. We need to be proud to be Average Joes and we need to realise the clout we truly have in this world. Because if you ask me, it’s the small changes that make the big difference.
If you want to know what else you can do to help with the plastic problem and our oceans check out this useful article from the BBC’s Blue Planet.
Also check out my post on Eco Friendly Household Products to reduce some of the unnecessary chemicals we use everyday HERE. And see the small changes I have made at home that are making a big difference to our waste HERE.