Time to Rethink Our Relationship with Plastics?

30 Jun 2020

Within a matter of months life has changed considerably for us as we begin to embrace our ‘new normal’.

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the life we led before, the people we cherish and the kind of life we wish to lead once this crisis blows over. With less cars on the road and cleaner air, it has also got us questioning why we ever accepted our ‘previous normal’ and with it the dangerously rapid decline of our nature.

Since the 1960s the use of plastics and our heavy reliance on fossil fuels has grown to take centre place in almost everything we possess.

From the pens we write with to the protective coating in our canned foods to the numerous children’s toys and household gadgets throughout our homes – add to this, the global surge in yet more single-use plastics as cafes, restaurants and pubs turn to providing takeaway services in response to the crisis. It is safe to say plastic is everywhere and is going nowhere, fast.

Plastic is a major source of pollution. It pollutes at every stage of its lifecycle from the oil and gas extracted to produce it, right through to when it ends up in our soil, rivers and beaches and by default in the fish and livestock we consume.

According to a recent report by the UN Environment Programme, plastics make up as much as 95 percent of the marine litter found on coastlines, sea surface, and the ocean floor. Anyone who has followed the Blue Planet series would know exactly what this means for our waters and the precious life these sustain.

Sadly, things look set to get worse. As the pandemic takes hold, streets and beaches are becoming littered with disposable masks and gloves and single-use plastics are getting a new lease on life.

In Europe alone, each year, over 25 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated. Of this, less than a third (30%) is collected to be recycled. The rest is destined for our already burgeoning landfill sites, incinerators or to developing countries who are paid to deal with it – and not always with the means nor the necessary checks required.

The appetite for change, however, is there and Scotland can and should do more to minimise its reliance on plastics.

A recent survey undertaken by Survation on behalf of Scottish Environment LINK, a coalition of leading environmental agencies in Scotland found that almost three quarters of Scots (74%) agreed that wherever possible the Government should only allow materials that are practicably and safely recyclable to be sold in Scotland. Almost all of the people surveyed (90%) believed that producers and retailers have a responsibility for the environmental impact of their products and as many as 80% support a ban on all environmentally harmful items where there are practical re-usable alternatives.

Growing levels of pollution and the alarming decline of biodiversity as the aftermath of our reliance on fossil fuels can no longer be ‘our normal’.

The pandemic has been a tough lesson for us all. It has also allowed us to see the status quo is not necessarily the way forward. That the rapid decline of the health of our nature and everything it helps to sustain is not a done deal. That the ‘normal’ we have got used to is not working and that now is not too late to think of a ‘new normal’, which is good for us and our precious and only planet.

This difficult period presents us with an opportunity to rethink and reshape how we live, consume and the type of world we wish to see in the future. A world we all deserve – before it’s too late.

Dr Phoebe Cochrane, Sustainable Economics Officer, Scottish Environment LINK

This blog was published in The National on Sunday 28 June 2020.

Photo credit: Sergei Tokmakov via Pixabay

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