Planetwise.
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Planetwise.

The journey of a plastic bag.

The only thing we can really be one hundred percent of, are the things we do.

We are 100% of everything we apply ourselves to. Whether we believe we have succeeded or failed, whether we think someone else is doing it better or not, the common ground is action.

Everyone who gets the job, or didn’t get the job, took action to apply. The movie star on the big screen with a fabulous trailer and the amateur dramatic in the village hall who gets changed in the cloakroom, both acted.

To help a stranger, to hold a door, to take an umbrella in case it rains. We are 100% of the actions we take.

The only thing we are zero percent of, are the things we don’t do. If we don’t make the phone call or fill out the form, then we are definitely not going to get the job. If we always wished we were going to do it, then we didn’t. If we don’t act, then we are not doing it. We are zero percent of that thing.

Which means if we have aspirations, the only way to achieve them is to do something. And we are probably right to be frightened, because it is likely we won’t be amazing first time. But the only way to guarantee you can get better at something, is to keep doing it.

This is not even pop psychology. It is bordering on ramblings. It was the late night theory of why I spend a lot of my time thinking about plastic. This is the fourth journal on the topic.

In each of the previous times I have talked about the concept of being zero plastic, or being plastic free, as an impossible thing. Even unachievable and disillusioning. I’ve posted links of all the times I have tackled something plastic-related at the end of this entry in case you would like to read more.

Each time I learn a bit more about how to reduce my plastic and our family’s plastic. But I also find myself in the same overwhelming cycle of rabbit holes.

We are borderline hypocritical if we criticise plastic. Many wonderful and progressive things in our lives are only achievable because of plastic. They are things we use and don’t even notice. Plastic stopped us using natural materials such as ivory. It made medical devices such as syringes accessible to those who did not have that option before. It was invented as a force for good — but also as well as becoming utopian, it has also become dystopian. And now in lots of places an actual real life unmitigated disaster.

I guess the things is, this conflict is within us all. The thing I am most asked about being planetwise is how I reconcile my love of the planet with specific objects made of plastic. Most of these didn’t cross my mind, like carpets.

It is sometimes also used as an expression of doubt. How can we consume certain products, if we are against plastic? Aren’t we failing at every turn? Aren’t we saying that we are environmentally conscious, but greenwashing ourselves?

It is all true, and it’s something that I think about a lot to try and be more present and more aware of plastic. It chips away each time I take the recycling tub down the drive.

It has also led to a gradual re-framing of the problem and the challenge to myself and our life.

It is simply: I am going to notice plastic.

It is hopeful. It is action. It is 100%. It allows plastic free moments, as an achievable place to start.

But what does it mean — to notice plastic?

It means I will pick things up, turn them over in my hands, think about what they are made of before I make a choice. Think not only about the item, but how it is packaged. I will consider plastic in each moment, and with each thing that I use, to build up this habit of noticing. By noticing plastic in each moment or as many moments as I can, every day, it means I can have conscious plastic free moments.

There is no better place to explain this, than with single use plastics. As an example, think about the life of a piece of single use plastic, such as a plastic bag. And please don’t think of where it came from, or where it might go to, because I am thinking in the moment.

The popular thinking is that one plastic bag, might have been made from something, and if we recycle it then it might be made into something else.

We rationalise that our bag might be made into a funky unicorn straw. Or that our water bottle will be made into another water bottle, and then another, and so on to eternity.

However, although we like to think the life of a plastic bag or a water bottle as a neat and tidy circle, is not guaranteed. In fact, there are some staggering stats about how much does not get recycled alongside what does.

I am not even talking about the dark economy of pretend recycling, and actual overseas dump reality. More just about looking around today as you’re out and about.

Noticing how much of this plastic doesn’t get caught in the recycling process because its blowing about in the breeze. Out of the car window or next to you on the pavement, notice how many little bits of plastic bag there are poking out of the ground. Caught in thorns in a hedge, blowing around in little windy eddies in back alleys. I even found a little bit woven into an old blackbird nest I found when I was tidying up some ivy in our garden this week.

The reason for these little bits of plastic, is because plastic does not break down like a compostable item, but it does break up. Heat and cold over time, turn a plastic bag into shredded parts. The wind takes this plastic all over the place. We don’t notice it, because we are used to seeing little bit of white everywhere.

But by noticing it, we can reframe our thinking from justifying recycling our single use plastics, to a simple thought. That it would be nicer for the planet, if this bit of plastic didn’t exist in the first place?

It might be a recycled plastic bag, or it might be another type of recycled single use plastic. But wouldn’t it be nice that instead of using millions and millions of tonnes of plastic to make single use items, that we found ways to remove them from this unpredictable chain?

Plus, next time we’re out walking, we can pick up a few plastic items that might have blown around, and put them in our own recycling, or public recycling bins. This will remove them from landfill or worse, and will create a net benefit. It is also 100% action.

Take this breakdown of plastics further. Imagine our plastic bag, continues to break up over time into smaller and smaller parts, eventually too small for us to see. When it becomes this small, it becomes classed as a microplastic. This means it falls into the same category as microfibres from clothes. Or microbeads from cosmetics. Tiny pieces of plastic that are becoming an enormous problem in our oceans and rivers.

The reason microplastics are important, is also linked to the life of our plastic bag. We don’t want microplastics in our waterways, is because plastic is excellent at absorbing harmful other chemicals. Therefore although our fellow creatures might not notice they are eating plastic. And even if images of microplastics might not be as dramatic as sea turtles trapped in nets. It might not be sea creatures with their heads in bottles, the microplastic problem is very real.

Which means that if we as humans then eat a fish or other creature that has inadvertently eaten plastic, then we are eating it ourselves.

Whilst I am also on microplastics, and as an epilogue to the story.

Let’s talk clothes for a moment, because this is another decision we can make in the moment.

On this topic, I am especially conflicted. I know that when it comes to microplastics, clothing fibres are the biggest contributor.

If we are buying our clothes from somewhere considered ‘fast fashion’ or if we are amazing how cheap a certain item of clothing is, then it is likely to be made from a synthetic material. Polyester or acrylic are the most popular, and are a large source of microplastic pollution.

On a basic level, this means we should try and buy better. However, I also understand that economic pressures are real. Changing habits is hard.

So I’ve reframed also the approach to this.

Instead of rejecting or boycotting all fast fashion, there is a common ground. The very high street stores are trying to change. They have begun to offer ethical alternatives — often called ‘conscious’ or ‘for good’. These selections and product ranges, have been accused of greenwashing. It is valid, and the perfect solution is to simply change the full range of clothing to be conscious, and the non-conscious be the exception. But this in itself a journey, and so how about this thought.

I like to think that behind every ethical range in a large organisation, is an individual who wants to make a difference. That someone had an idea, pitched it because they care, and who wants their organisation to change. We can paint them as disciples of the evil corporations. Or, we can support that person and that range whilst we figure out how to make bigger changes. Give them the confidence to continue to do their thing too.

Ethical ranges are small, but they are a start. There is no-one better placed to make a big difference than an established fashion house. They have the resourcing, supply chains and talent to make the change. They need the economic incentive, and this is something we can all provide through our buying choices.

This individual, might be the change from within. Or they might even get the confidence to break free, and to create the next big bridge between the industry and the planet.

We see them as the 0%, but they might be the 100%. We are all connected, and everything starts with the individual, or with an individual.

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