Petroleum products have not been around for long but they have certainly had an impact on our lives and the environment. Our love affair with hydrocarbons has spawned all sorts of useful things including my favourite – polyurethane wheels for skate boards. The 70’s saw the explosion of plastic inventions including Tupperwear and cling wrap or ‘glad wrap’ (aptly named for the time). I remember my Dad keenly wrapping everything in my lunch box so much so that completing a rubix cube might have been easier to solve than how to get into my sandwiches. These days almost everything comes wrapped in some form of plastic. Sometimes I want to laugh hysterically, don a balaclava and run into a fruit and vege shop with a craft knife and free all cucumbers and cauliflower that are suffocating in PVC condoms and polystyrene.
The relationship with this stuff needs to change. We need to break it off as a species and get honest with the cost – not the monetary value or economic impact – the cost to nature. I’m not sure if you have tried enjoying a walk on the beach recently but I don’t so much as enjoy it anymore as find myself picking up bits of bags, pegs, corks, nylon, and ‘sad wrap’. There is a bit of an addiction to problem-solution thinking as well. Yes we need to clean up the environment but it’s become a trend to find novel ways to use waste creatively or find ways to recruit nature to help do the cleaning up. One of the current ideas is that mealworms are the answer – they can eat polystyrene apparently and not get a hangover. Sounds very ethical, keep making a mess and let someone else clean it up – and you don’t even have to pay them. But plastic that gets into the ocean is another story. Sea life needs better protection and every loose bit that falls into the sea is a hazard. If it isn’t strangling something, it’s ingested even when dissolved into microscopic levels. Yes – plastic has been found in plankton, the only way is up the food chain from there.
Summer is coming, the beach is calling. If you see a bag blowing along the beach, jump on it – just watch the sudden reduction in friction resulting in the inadvertent splits and potential hamstring strain. Nature has just one request leave nothing but footprints and buttock creases.