I grew up with plastic even though I was raised somewhere very rural and unpolluted in the 80’s and 90’s. Plastic was a handy substance and I remember when my uncle put plastic roofing on his sheds to replace the rusty corrugated iron stuff. I remember when ’roundy bales‘ of silage appeared, each wrapped in a few lovely, clean layers of black plastic, easily incinerated afterwards. The black smoke towered into the sky on the still day of burning. I also remember watching crisp packets hilariously shrink on the open fire on hot coals. It was absorbing to watch. I passed many a mindful moment with this pursuit, as a kid.
These Days We Hate Plastic
I watched some of Hugh’s programme about plastic recently and was as disgusted as I’m sure most were, at the piles of plastic slowly fading away in a developing country and we, the world’s important, with our SM profiles, personal attention and adoration, are happily disconnected from the result of our unchecked consumption. This truly is a beautiful symbol of where we’re at. More recently I’ve been wondering about taking responsibility for my own plastic, since it appears nobody else is. The other day I put some plastic on a campfire and it felt really wrong, denuding the woodland scene with this ‘unnatural’ substance. Does being disconnected from the end result of my consumption mean I’m being ripped off, in some way? If I dispose of my own plastic am I taking responsibility where others obviously aren’t? If we all had to burn our own plastic would we stop buying so much? Or would it just be fun to do?
I mean, who’s not familiar with the simple perfection of a mars bar wrapper, its vibrant durability expresses confidence and hints at a strong result. Ads for Mars in the 90’s contained athletes and highly motivated people choosing to chew a mars bar simply because it made them bigger and more capable of success. Not only that but it’s got nostalgia attached, its inherent value goes beyond its contents into complex emotional connections.
Plastic is the perfect metaphor/definition for the advertising industry, upon which so much of branding is based. A medium which builds in longevity and puts an inflated value on what would otherwise be worthless. Hence the mars bar and plastic coke bottle. Plastic is a symbol of convenience, longevity, modern consumption, that everything is taken care of. In our lives and the way we live now, there is no getting away from it. For many of us, cutting out single use plastics would mean starving to death. It is the lifeblood of our modern sleepy attitude, it flows through our veins. Even the (social) media is plastic, a shiny wrapper which hides connection.
There’s the plastic we use every day which somehow seems to escape the lambasting, for example: the humble crisp packet. Somehow it doesn’t seem like plastic. I mean, how would we eat crisps at all if it weren’t for plastic? We’d probably have to make our own or maybe nominate one crisp-maker per street, or maybe use a rota system. Community Crisps CIC. Put then in paper bags, maybe or reused take away tubs. We simply must have our crisps! Chocolate bars, once again. Cheese! We can’t have cheese without plastic. We really can’t! No please don’t give us cheese without plastic. Or organic vegetables. My organic supermarket bought vegetables have to be in a plastic bag. They have to be taken care of in that way.
How would we brush our teeth without plastic?! The toothpaste — the TOOTHBRUSH!! You can get wooden ones of course but who wants to put a dirty piece of wood near their mouth? Yuk, dirty, natural wood soaked in water and stuff, a breeding ground for germs, that’s what I heard. Then there’s most of our modern cars, plastic. We bought a really comfy sofa recently – PLASTIC. Computers, carpets, duvets, pillows, clothes! Windows, doors, phones. Everything is taken care of. I love glitter.
The symbol is not only of our disconnection from what happens with our waste but also our disconnection from responsibility, if that’s not too much of a moral tack for you. It’s taken care of, that’s what we were led to believe. In a world of convenience we’re lazy and ignorant because we think we’re being taken care of in some way, that things will be ok. Perhaps because governments know they can get votes by saying that their business is about looking after people, and of course to some extent it is. We think they can solve the problems we’ve helped create, bought into and not taken responsibility for.
Hugh does great work in spelling out the issues and confronting the people who he feels are responsible, including us as consumers. It’s brilliant work and so needed. Attenborough as well, has helped bring this big lifestyle problem of ours into consciousness. Before that we were asleep. Oh hang on. Were we asleep? No, this has been going on for ages, surely? Reusable bags, etc, people have been doing that for decades, right? You know, the hippies, the ones complaining about ‘the man’. Those people, the longhairs, those people who’ve been shouting about pollution and the state of the planet for decades. They’re so lame though! It’s the critical mass thing, the modern fragmented community, which can’t decide or be responsible for anything apart from complaining all the time is becoming hippified, slowly churning through indecision into a clunky sort of unity. Individualised, empowered westerners having to work together. Yuk! We who have worked for decades to be independent of each other now need to drop our habits and work together to save the world by stopping something which we thought was amazing only a few years ago. Eff you, I’m not doing it! People whose homes, cars, gardens, jobs and choices are their own and nobody else’s to make. The experience of economic freedom means we don’t have to commit to help others. everything is taken care of. The whole point is to be my own person, to do my own thing, to play the game by my rules. I give to charity, I pay my bills and taxes, don’t make me feel shame! Everything is taken care of.
I have heard people say that they hate plastic which may be a little bit misplaced, like all the hate campaigns out there. Positive hate! Yeah! I work in a shop sometimes and the other day a person came in for some salad and we only had salad which was in a plastic bag. Up until recently one would be applauded for the use of plastic to keep food fresh. He asked <have you got anything that’s not in plastic?> I said sorry, no. <No greens for my lunch, then>, he arraigned with passive aggressive fury as he gently stormed out, unable to make eye contact with one so evil as me.