I’m really annoyed with myself. I unthinkingly bought a plastic-wrapped six pack of tissues, also in plastic. I’d never normally dream of buying so much packaging, but the lure of convenience made me suddenly mindless. I hate myself!
I also hate the cunning marketing and extensive packaging on items, particularly for children’s lunch boxes which prey on busy parents and the pester power of kids, making little packets look attractive when a lot of it is really only poison disguised as healthy and the impact the packaging has is disastrous. Read this extract from the book ‘No Impact Man’ by Colin Beavan, about a parent living in New York with a conscience about the waste he creates and you’ll see what I mean:
…In 1988, across a span of two weeks, fifteen leatherback turtles, and endangered species, washed up dead on the beaches of Long Island. Alarmed by the deaths, marine biologists performed autopsies. They discovered that eleven of the fifteen dead turtles had ingested plastic bags that stopped their stomach openings. Leatherback turtles, you see, have the unfortunate twin qualities of a taste for jelly fish and bad eyesight. To these nearly blind turtles, it seems, a submerged plastic bag looks simply delicious.
The crazy thing is that the bags, which are designed to be thrown away, are made out of a material that is designed to last forever. They are far from the only plastic- containing disposables: think of razors, eating utensils, toothbrushes, water bottles, coffee cups, pens combs, and on and on. Because plastic is so durable, all these things persist for hundreds of years. As a result, there are 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of ocean, according to the United Nations Environment Program.
A thousand miles of the coast of California, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there is a swirling soup of floating trash twice the size of the continental United States. The “garbage patch” as it’s called, contains six times as much plastic, by weight, as bio matter. Way out there in the Pacific Ocean, a thousand miles from the nearest human, plankton, jellyfish, and fish are outnumbered (by weight) six to one by plastic bags, water bottles, and other throwaway plastic knick-knacks.
In the North Pacific alone, an estimated 100,000 sea turtles and sea mammals, a million sea birds, and countless other fish starve to death each year after plastic blocks their digestive tracks. A recent study on Sand Island, in the northwestern Hawaiian chain, showed that 97 percent of Laysan albatross chicks had ingested plastic picked up by the parents from the ocean surface and mistakenly fed to them as food….
You think this doesn’t affect you? Read on…
Meanwhile, those floating plastic discards that don’t choke marine animals slowly break down in the salt and sunlight until they are suspended in the water like microscopic Christmas-tree bobbles. The plankton eaters devour them, then the big fish eat the little fish, and then guess who eats the big fish? The sushi restaurants that make dinners for us grown ups and the fish-stick factories that makes school lunches for our kids. What starts at the bottom of the food chain inevitably ends at the top.
It turns out that each of us has, in our body, detectable amounts of up to one hundred industrial chemicals nobody had even heard of fifty years ago. Many of these chemicals came from the production and use of the same disposable plastic crap that fills my garbage bags. Bisphenol-A, for example, a compound used in the liners of food cans and to make disposable water bottles and other hard plastics, is a known hormone disrupter that raises the risk of certain cancers, hampers fertility, and may contribute to childhood behavioural problems such as hyperactivity.
You are what you eat, they say, and it’s not just the turtles who are ingesting the plastic crap we throw away. What happens to the wildlife on this planet is an early warning sign of what’s happening to us.
The way my culture lives its life, I can’t help wondering: Really? Are plastic bags (and paper bags, which aren’t any better for the environment) something for which we are willing to threaten the planetary habitat we all depend upon for our health, happiness and security?
On balance, if we have to choose – and I think we kind of do – would we rather have a planet overflowing with plastic bags and all the rest of the disposable plastic crap, or would we rather have sea turtles and chemical-free children?
Eye-opening, isn’t it?
We are tricked to believe we are doing our kids a service – showing them love even – by buying them individually packaged, insidiously attractive foodstuffs, or whatever-stuffs, tissues included. We’re not. In fact we’re doing the opposite. We’re slowly adding to their ill health and destruction. And we need to do our best as parents to counteract poisonous marketing ploys and educate them to understand how important it is to be mindful of what they buy – unlike me!
Not only am I NEVER going to buy individual packets of tissue (or maybe even tissues at all) any more, I am going to scrutinise every single bit of plastic that comes into this house, make a choice about buying it in the first place, and re-use it until it’s as old and cracked as I am!
See his site for more info: http://noimpactman.typepad.com/blog/