2 Minute Foundation founder, Martin Dorey, is also the author of the best-selling book on plastic, No. More. Plastic. Here he talks about why (and how) we can (and must) work together to ensure that when we get back to business as usual it isn’t just business as usual. And how the times we are living in show us that it’s time to take a stand.
How are you getting on? Well, I hope. It’s a confusing time for all of us. We’ve had our liberty taken away from us by a virus. An enemy we can’t see.
Most of us, I expect, can’t wait to get back to normal, whatever normal is for us. Me too. But I know that we can’t just turn the clock back like nothing happened.
The way I see it, normal is the problem. As beach cleaners who work on the front line of ocean pollution we know this already. We see it each time we do a #2minutebeachclean or #2minutelitterpick. We see detritus from the fishing industry, from aquaculture, agriculture, industry and our every day lives. We fill our bags with plastic that’s been used once then tossed away. We see seabirds with rope around their necks and hooks in their beaks. We see rockpools full of microplastics, biobeads from sewage treatment plants and raw material plastic from factories. Deep in our hearts we know we can’t just carry on trashing our planet as before.
The latest I have read on the likely cause of Coronavirus blames human contact with viruses originating in bats. That’s the human world colliding with nature in a way it never should. The virus transfers to us from handling meat or coming into close contact with wild creatures, and then it travels around the world, very quickly, thanks to our ability to travel anywhere we like, whenever we like.
It has – quite literally – shut down most ‘normal’ human activity across of the planet.
It’s easy for anyone to see how much we are encroaching on the natural world and how we come into conflict with it. We cut down rainforests to grow palm oil or raise cattle. We use pesticides to grow crops. We create monocultures that offer no home for biodiversity. We farm fish and feed it with many times its body weight in juvenile fish from the open sea. We pollute the oceans with millions of tonnes of toxic plastic. We disregard the future because we’re too concerned with the profit and comfort of the now.
Normal – or business as usual – isn’t doing us any good.
How could we ever go back to that?
There are a lot of people saying that life will never be the same again after this. Many of us will hope so too. We want to see a fully funded NHS, to see our ‘low skilled’ workers treated with more respect and to see fairness come back into our society. We read about the resilience of nature, about goats in Llandudno and deer reclaiming the streets in Japan and we feel hope that things will change. Dolly reports that the grass is starting to grow between the cobbles in her beloved Clovelly now that the visitors have gone. It feels like a turning point for nature vs us. But is it?
Plastic usage in time of crisis
Unsurprisingly, plastic usage during Coronavirus, will skyrocket. All those wraps around that panic-bought loo roll that will never get recycled. All that (composite and hard to recycle) hand sanitisers. All that PPE, those gloves, the masks. The single use packaging bought for fear of the infection. The wet wipes used to wipe down the surfaces. It all adds up. In a lot of cases it makes sense too. But all this plastic has to go somewhere.
A study published in March showed that (under lab conditions) the virus can live on plastic for up to 72 hours, but only up to 24 on cardboard.
Anti-plastic measures origially meant to help us remove plastic from our lives are also being rewound in light of the virus, making it harder for some. As pointed out in a fascinating article from Wired Magazine recently some shops in the USA are (apparently) refusing to accept bags brought from home for fear of transferring infection, while Starbucks stopped allowing people to bring their own cups for coffees before they were shut down.
On top of that, with the oil price so low (no one is buying it right now!) virgin plastic is cheaper than it’s been in a while, making recycling even less viable than ever for the companies who were already struggling to make it pay. And, with fears over the safety of workers, recycling centres have closed, meaning some will simply dump their waste rather than store it at home. The rest goes to landfill, at a time when we should be trying to take the pressure off our local councils. Fly tipping has seen an instant increase since the corona virus, making more work for the guys and girls in the hi viz and creating even more chaos for nature.
What it all means is that we still have a mountain to climb. And with China’s policy of sending us our stuff back now in its third year, we’re going to have to be more vigilant than ever, now and in the future. We can’t rely on recycling and we can’t live without plastic. We just have to learnt to use it better and use less of it. A lot less of it. We have to continue to reject as much of it as we can from our lives. This is where cooking, good, tasty meals from scratch, with fresh, locally sourced ingredients comes in.
Sure, I get that you’re worried about the virus and plastic ‘protects’ your shopping. But the more plastic goes into production, and it will, the more will end up in the environment and the more nature will be under threat.
Big business isn’t sitting at home
While big, polluting businesses may also have been shut down over the last few weeks, you can bet they aren’t sitting at home watching reruns of Friends on Netflix. Why would they, when their bottom line is under threat? I am sure their strategists and lobbyists will be working flat out on how to get back to business as usual. Business as usual is what makes them their money and, sadly, what also kills our oceans, destroys the rainforests, heats up our planet and causes viruses that spread around the world. When the time is right (or before) they will be ready to snap at the heels of our MPs to encourage them to get back to business as usual.
So now is the time to make our preparations too.
Now is the time to DO SOMETHING POSITIVE while you can. And there’s plenty you can do.
Now is the time to shop local for your essentials. Buying local supports local farming, business, industry and places less burden on the planet. Plus, you get to avoid supermarkets!
Now is the time to learn a few good, veggie dishes that will warm your heart and help you to stay healthy. If you have the space it’s time to plant a few herbs too, so you can avoid those non-recyclable packs of herbs from the supermarket.
Now is the time to reassess the relationship you have with your car. Could you learn to use it less in the future, and in doing so, learn to appreciate it as nothing more than a vehicle to get you from A to B? It’s not a lifestyle extension or status symbol if you can’t use it. It’s metal and plastic and the less you use it tomorrow the better off the planet will be. Think how nice it’s been without the traffic.
Now is the time to change your energy supplier. You’ve got time right now, so why not use it to do something planet positive? Plus you’re using more energy than usual at the moment, so it’s more important than ever to consider where you energy comes from. Changing your electricity supplier to one that sources from renewables will mean your money goes into investing in more renewable technology like wind farms and solar farms. As things continue, we need to make sure our online habits aren’t contributing to destroying the planet. Every internet search, on-demand video, Zoom chat and online supermarket shop has a carbon cost associated with it, so choosing where your power comes from is important. Who is best? There is lots of information online. Do some digging. Start here: https://www.t3.com/features/best-green-energy-supplier
Now is the time to change your bank. Your money and savings get used by banks to invest in projects they believe will make them the most money, often irrespective of the consequences, like drilling for oil in the Arctic or growing palm oil in the rainforest. Removing your money from them helps to stop them doing this. Some banks invest in ethical funds and won’t put your hard-earned cash into planet killing projects. Find the best here: https://www.moneyexpert.com/current-account/ethical-banking/
Now is the time to make your pension work for the planet. Divesting from fossil fuels is one way you can make your voice heard when it comes to climate change and the plastics industry. This means taking your business away from companies that have interests in fossil fuels or who invest in them. On a basic level it means asking for your pension pot to be moved into an ethical pot. If you have a NEST pension you can do this in less than 5 minutes. I did it a few weeks ago. Log on to the portal, choose an ethical pot and stop your money from being used to screw the planet. Bingo.
Now is the time that you can learn to appreciate your old phone. It’s the greenest phone available. Did you know that? But when you upgrade it all you do is contribute to the fast turnover of the industry. If it works, why get rid of it? It doesn’t make sense. Just because there’s a new phone out it doesn’t mean it’s better. It’s just making more waste and using up more resources. Spend some time deleting unused apps and images, and, in doing so, help it to live longer. Learn to love it all over again!
Now is the time to mend your old clothes. Did you know that visible mending is the new thing? It means you don’t have to be a sewing wizard to get your old clothes back into circulation and looking good. Sew it up and be proud that you’re doing your bit to combat the HUGE problem with waste from the fashion industry. Not only will you save your clothes from going to landfill you’ll also save yourself a few quid too.
Now is the time to resist the propaganda. You might hear that plastic is more ‘environmentally friendly’ than cardboard or paper for packaging because of the energy used to make it. Don’t listen. Paper and cardboard, if made using renewable energy and from sustainable forests, or better still recycled stock, are far less damaging than plastic. Plastic is made from fossil fuels and pollutes at every stage of its life cycle. Recycled plastic still pollutes and is not infinitely recyclable. Also, bioplastics – made from sugar cane or other materials – might not be made from fossil fuels but they still behave like plastics in the environment and are just as persistent.
TAKE A READ OF THIS: https://www.npr.org/2019/07/09/735848489/plastic-has-a-big-carbon-footprint-but-that-isnt-the-whole-story
Now is the time to reassess the daily grind. You can work from home because, if you are one of the millions who are now working out of the spare room, you are doing it now. So why not consider asking to do it once or twice a week after lockdown? In a year you could save yourself 96 days of commuting by staying at home for 2 days each week. If 10 million of us do it that’s 960,000,000 fewer journeys to pollute the planet.
Tips on working from home from Auntie: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51868894
Now is the time to plan your next holiday. Use the time to find out about interrailing or travelling in Europe or even in the UK. You can have fun here too. And Europe, despite feeling very far away right now, is just a train or ferry ride to the south. For less than €200 someone who is under 25 can travel in Europe by train to over 40,000 destinations in 33 countries.
Interrail isn’t just for students!!! https://www.interrail.eu/en
Now is the time to appreciate those who make our society function. The nurses, doctors, key workers, bin operatives, teachers, delivery drivers, shelf stackers and everyone who keep us going aren’t just ‘unskilled workers’. They are vital to us (as they always were). We need to support them in the future and to support a system that supports them too.
Now is the time to appreciate the silence that goes with traffic free streets and plane-free skies. Get that old bike out of the shed and give it a bit of love!! Use your exercise time to wheel around the empty streets.
Now is the time to learn to live without. You are doing it now. So why not forever? Do you really need those new things? Really? Does buying things make you happy? Or is it spending time with your friends? What is it that makes you rich?
Now is the time to choose how you support the NHS. Do you support it as a charity, in a time of need, when it needs it? Or do you accept that maybe, if we hope to get the best care when our time comes, we might need to pay more?
Now is the time to help those in need. They need us more now than ever before. Have you checked in on your neighbour recently?
Now is the time to judge others by what they do, not what they have. Things are irrelevant now. Fashion, pointless. Status, meaningless. Time to think of those who need it more than you.
Now is the time to make a note of the companies who give to the NHS, asking for nothing in return, and supporting them in the future. Conversely, now is the time to open your eyes to the companies that get you to donate to the NHS on their behalf, and, in doing so, aim to look good.
Now is the time to remember the airlines that asked for a bail out from the government and also gave dividends to shareholders. Ask yourself if they should be in business if they can’t survive without public money. They enjoyed the good times. Now let them endure the bad times too. Let the shareholders prop them up.
Now is the time to make the good guys rich. The bad guys have had it good for long enough. So put your money into the pockets of those who you trust to use it for good. Buy good quality stuff that will last if you’re buying clothes. Buy from companies who run take-back schemes for their packaging or have committed to reducing their plastic output. Buy from companies with ethics at their heart.
Now is the time to appreciate nature. It’s having a field day at the moment. Let’s keep it that way. Let’s try to make choices that don’t impact negatively on it.
Now is the time to listen to birdsong. How long since you last listened to it without a background of planes or cars? Put out some food for the birds and learn to tell them apart.
Now is the time to walk in deserted streets. And savour every car-free moment of your exercise time, if you can get outside today. Take a picture to remind yourself what it was like.
Remember it. And don’t forget to tell your loved ones that you love them.
Now is the time.
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