Six pack rings

Every morning I walk up the hill to the newsagent for the morning papers and milk for breakfast. I try to pick up at least one piece of litter en route, just a tiny token effort towards keeping the neighbourhood and the environment clean. As I'm using my bare hands, I am rather selective about what I choose to pick, but I always go for six pack rings (usually four pack, but, hey...) as they are most likely to end up in our local river or green areas and strangle wildlife.

I've seen quite a few groups urging people to go 'plastic free' and individuals pledge to try to go 'plastic free' for a set period of time – by buying loose veg and drinks in glass bottles etc. We see beaches covered in litter and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a stain on the history of humanity. The message is clear – plastic is evil and we should get rid of it.

But, hold on just one darn minute.

OK, think about this. Glass bottles mean greater weight, means more carbon emissions in the supply chain. Loose veg means shorter shelf life, means more food waste, leading to more carbon and more land use to support the same population. If we went further in phasing out plastics, cars and aeroplanes would be heavier, less fuel efficient, and have shorter life spans. The very characteristics that make plastics an environmental problem – low density and durability – are those which make them part of the solution.

I think of plastic waste like the old gardeners' definition of a weed – a plant in the wrong place. As we shift to a circular economy, collection and recycling of plastics will be incentivised, meaning that litter will fall. That's not just wishful thinking – the UK's plastic bag tax incentivised the reuse of plastic bags, including heavier 'bags for life', and beach litter quickly halved. In other words, it's not plastic that's the problem, it's how we use it.

 

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