Sustainability – for the many?
Sometime last Tuesday, a hashtag #PlasticFreeDay appeared on my Twitter feed. I was vaguely aware that it was World Environment Day, but, like so many eco-days, this new one had passed me by entirely (as I read the eco-press daily, this says more about the ineffectiveness of the plethora of awareness days, hours and weeks than my ignorance). So I did a bit of googling and found that the organisers wanted 250 million people would go ‘plastic-free’ for a day.
My immediate reactions were 1. how on earth could anyone do this?, and 2. why would you want to?
My kids love my bacon and pea pasta, so let’s say I’ve promised them that on Plastic Free Day. Of the four major ingredients, I could use chopped tomatoes from a tin rather than a carton, ditto peas (although they taste awful compared to frozen peas from a bag), but bacon and pasta? I can’t think of anybody who sells pasta in anything other than a plastic wrapping, so I’d have to make it myself. Even if I went to a traditional butcher, they’d wrap sliced bacon in a piece of plastic, otherwise bacon juice would ooze into the rest of my shopping. Sorry boys, treat’s off, because, y’know, a hashtag.
To me, the ‘plastic-free’ movement is a bit reminiscent of the ‘clean eating’ movement where an initially virtuous idea – ‘plastic free oceans’/’let’s be healthy’ leads a small number of earnest people into a maze of competitive self-sacrifice, virtue-signalling and finger-pointing in an echo-chamber of similarly earnest (and largely middle-class) people. Outside that echo-chamber, normal people continue with their normal lives.
We will only get to Sustainability by focussing on the needs of those outside the eco-echo-chamber – real people. Telling the general public they’ll have to make their own pasta or go veggie is a non-starter; we’ve got to make Sustainability easy, exciting and fun. We need to design a better system with less waste, more recycling and bio-degradable plastics heading for a truly circular economy. Small incentives can have a major impact – single use plastic bag use is down a whopping 90% in England since the introduction of the 5p levy on their use.
And me? Well on #PlasticFreeDay, like every day, I picked up half-a-dozen or so pieces of plastic litter blowing about on our streets. As this feral plastic is more likely to get into the oceans than my carefully disposed of food packaging, it almost certainly had a bigger positive impact than me struggling to make my own pasta.