1 EAGLETON NOTES: Plastics

.

.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Plastics

I’m not the world’s greatest analytical  thinker. In fact I’m probably not the best in my own household which is amazing given that I live alone. So the following comments are simply musings.

There can be few people who have seen Blue Planet 2 who are not to some extent now anti-plastic.

I have for years been wondering about the use of plastic in supermarkets. I think it began ten years ago in a small town in France called Civray at a chain supermarket called Intermarché . It was the first time that I had seen every single orange wrapped in plastic. Since then it has become a challenge to get into almost any food without removing layers of plastic.


This is a huge subject but I shall just make a few observations.

Plastics help keep food fresh and without them we in the UK (and presumably much of Europe) would be denied many all-year-round foods. Indeed we would be denied many foods that we now take for granted. It was very obvious when I lived in Napier (the same may not be true of the more cosmopolitan cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) that, generally speaking, fresh food was seasonal. There were exceptions: oranges always seemed to be from the USA for example and were available all the time. They don’t need plastic to stay edible! Apples - one of New Zealand’s big crops - were held in inert gas in massive storehouses so were also always available. In fact I don’t remember anywhere near as much plastic being used for packaging as is used in the UK.

One of my greatest joys in New Zealand was to stop at the roadside in The Handbag and buy a punnet or paper bag of cherries right off the tree that morning. I would then drive home and arrive having devoured the lot with not a bit of plastic involved. (Don’t tell anyone but, given that The Handbag was open topped, I used to curl my tongue and expel the stone).

I digressed.

Just about every food that is transported across the world (at great air mile environmental cost) is wrapped in plastic and probably could not be transported without it.

I’m not advocating no action. Indeed there are many things we could and should do and we should do them quickly.

However we should also think before we commit to alternatives.

Bioplastic much beloved by the vegan food industry takes 1.7 sq metres of arable land to provide each kilo. I think I read that Europe consumes about 60 million tonnes of plastic wrapping a year. If all this were grown in fields then it would take 40,000 sq miles (one tenths of Europe’s arable land).  It also tends to compost to methane very quickly which has 20 times the potency of CO₂.

Lots of ‘plastic’ things are being made of bamboo derivatives. That sounds good to me but, apparently, the bamboo crops of the world (it’s not the fastest growing plant) are being decimated fairly rapidly.

I have no idea what the answers are but there are great analytical  thinkers out there and perhaps the politicians should employ some to solve the problem before it becomes unsolvable as the world sinks in a plastic mire.

As an aside I think the hardest problem to solve is going to be secure bottle tops. You can’t press the side of metal caps in to release them from a medicine bottle.

27 comments:

  1. The sea is full of plastic. There are large plastic islands in the sea. many changes have to be made in the use of plastic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Red, it's the Blue Planet 2 programme about the world's oceans that has made so many people in the UK suddenly sit up and take notice.

      Delete
  2. Modern living is tied into the use of plastics. We will never eliminate it, but should do our best to avoid it. I'm struggling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely Cro, we will never eliminate its use in the foreseeable future but we can stop being profligate in its use and I hope that we shall.

      Delete
  3. It will be a good day when supermarkets are banned from using plastic bags.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diane the use of supermarket single-use plastic bags has dropped hugely in the UK and either multi-use 'bags for life' are encouraged but lots of people take hessian bags. However there's still a huge distance to go and the use of plastic bags for wrapping things is still enormous.

      Delete
  4. I've never seen every single orange wrapped in plastic at any of the groceries shops or supermarkets here in Germany; usually, they either come as they are so that customers can pick how many they like and pay according to weight, or they come 5 oranges (or more) together in a (plastic!!) net bag. The organic (!) bananas I buy at Aldi's sadly come as a bundle in a plastic bag; I'd prefer them without the plastic, as I peel them anyway before eating. Same goes for cucumbers. I have stopped buying cucumbers wrapped in shrink foil years ago; I just don't see the point.
    O.K. has much better shopping habits than I do. For instance, he buys yoghurt in glass jars with metal lids; jars and lids are washed and returned to the shop for a few cents. The oranges he turns into fresh orange squash for us on Sunday mornings are organic, too, and come in no packaging at all; he usually takes cloth bags, baskets or a small crate in the car when he goes shopping.
    But... he has a car, and drives to work every day; also, he drives to my place about once a month, whereas I use public transport. So I guess the way we live our typical lives in western society, we can try and make good at one point but fail at others. To live completely environmentally friendly seems so radical and difficult to achieve, I admit I am not even trying. Maybe I should try a little harder.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Meike, so far as I can recall that is the only time I have ever seen each individual orange so wrapped. Tangerines and satsumas etc tend to come in plastic 'net' bags. The Fair Trade bananas we get are usually crapped in a plastic bag too. I'm not sure why cucumbers come shrink wrapped because some do and some don't. Like O.K. I use boxes and different bags including (plastic) cool bags (which last for years) but then I also have a car and shop by car.

      Delete
  5. I totally agree with everything you've said, Graham. But what puzzles me is that a problem which has been gestating for many years has only just really come to light. Like the need for recycling. Have we been merrily bowling along all these years with our eyes shut? These things don't happen suddenly, do they.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, Frances, they don't happen over night but it takes something like the Blue Planet 2 to make us aware en masse. Then it takes bloggers and social media users and newspapers and television programmes to keep the matter alive and get politicians to do something to make us do something and alter social habits.

      Delete
  6. I am not sure that I should be communicating with a fellow who openly admits to littering New Zealand roadsides with cherry stones - expelled with incredible force from his Liverpudlian mush. At least it solves my puzzlement about all the small cherry trees my wife and I saw when driving out of Napier towards Lake Taupo.

    I cry about all the plastic - so much of which is related to ruthless quest for wealth. It is a modern day horror story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YP, I agree that so much of its use is to satisfy our first world cravings which, in turn, leads to the huge companies making profits. In the case of Tesco I believe that a great many pension funds invest them to give, amongst others, former public servants like you and me our pensions.

      Delete
  7. (Like Meike) I've never seen oranges individually wrapped in plastic. Just now I can't think of any other individually wrapped fruit either. Common with cucumbers, though. But mostly with fruit and vegs sold in pre-packed quantities.
    Some packaging is no doubt needed for transport, or otherwise there would be too much waste of other kind along the way from production to consumer.
    I do sort packaging materials and take to a recycling container depot in my residential area every week (paper, plastic, glass, tins, newspapers, batteries). Anything else we are supposed to (somehow) take to one of the larger recycling centres around town. One day per year they do come with special trucks to the residential areas to collect other stuff as well - but that is not often enough. People keep leaving all kinds of things by the local containers all the time, whether they belong there or not. (Sad sight every time one passes.) In my opinion, it should be made easier for people to sort stuff for recycling close to home.

    Something recently introduced in Sweden is that we now have to pay extra for plastic tote bags in all kinds of shops. Not just in grocery shops but also in for example fashion shops - they have to ask each customer now if they want to buy a bag as well. Sometimes of course one finds that one does want to - especially when buying clothes (not wanting to put a new clean sweater in the grocery bag, or whatever) But the question does make one think twice and it has had effect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the UK, Monica, we have quite extensive re-cycling but one of the great ironies is that millions of homes have four huge recycling bins which are not only a massive blot on many landscapes but also use a vast amount of plastic in the manufacture.

      Delete
  8. The whole plastic issue just depresses me! I try to limit my use of plastic with mixed results but then I see thigs like an old guy using five bags to carry two watermelons and I wonder why I bother

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kylie console yourself with the probability that as your example was a 'old guy' he probably had a use for the 5 plastic bags for rubbish disposal or the like.

      Delete
  9. I don't have the answers. I wish I did.

    I've never seen fruit wrapped individually in plastic. That practice really is way over the top, in my opinion.

    Lebanese cucumbers sometimes are wrapped individually in air-tight plastic wrap, but nothing else, that I can think of.

    In the supermarket and green-groceries I shop at here in my little village display their produce in large open display "bins" where the shopper picks out their own at will.

    And similar to what you experienced in New Zealand, Graham, here where I live there are a lot of local growers who sell their produce from roadside stalls outside their properties - on an "honesty system". And every Sunday there is what is called "The Green Shed" at the local showgrounds. It sells to those locally-grown fruit and vegetables to the public. We're very lucky, I believe.

    Plastic....we have to learn how to dispose of it correctly....not only on mass...but the individual human must open their eyes and use commonsense in the disposal of plastic. But, boy....it's difficult educating people....

    (PS...I don't know what you or I did to offend Adullamite, but he was quite rude in both his responses in my post I wrote about my family and heritage. He returned to tell both you and me - Quote - "IF you don't like it you know what yous can do." I have no idea why he has adopted this attitude. I'm not going to lose sleep over it, though.).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comments Lee. As to Adullamite I did see his comment and just ignored it. He doesn't follow my blog I'm happy to say.

      Delete
  10. I burn plastic wrappers. Not PVC as it is really vile stuff. I try and purchase loose food but then have to pop it in plastic to pay for it.
    The stuff I really object to is the hand cleaner gel that has little plastic balls in. I only get the stuff that has calcium carbonate as an abrasive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Adrian the sooner the little plastic balls are banned completely the better.

      Delete
    2. Yes, they charge for shopping (messages) bags but still fail to address the real issues. Condoms, those plastic sticks for ridding ear wax and detergents.

      Delete
  11. I have never seen oranges wrapped in plastic like that! I am appalled by that. They are wrapped in their natural wrapping, why do we also need a layer of plastic!
    Plastic bags, unfortunately, are still used throughout Australia. There has been a big push to stop their use but little has been done. I don't use plastic bags, haven't for years. I would much rather take in my own bags.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lynda, France is the only place I have ever seen oranges wrapped individually. I've stopped using plastic bags for shopping. Ironically I used to use them as waste bin liners but now I have to buy them separately anyway.

      Delete
  12. oh plastic is a big thing with me, the supermarket where I work, oh wow the amount of products they sell that are enclosed in plastic is silly. If only there were alternatives. But on a plus side it is good to see so many people using reusable bags for their shopping and we will be starting to charge people for plastic bags, I see this is one positive step to getting rid of plastic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amy, if we keep on bringing pressure to bear on the supermarkets I hope things will change. In the UK one supermarket has already said that all it's own brand products will be plastic-free by 2020.

      Delete
  13. The painters now cover everything in cling film before painting. It is I have to say better than those tatty dusty cloths they used to use. I am not sure what the answer is. I fear it is enforced decrease in consumerism which might be what we are heading for.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I must say Jenny that that I agree that the us of cling film and the much tougher exterior versions are wonderful inventions. I comfort myself by thinking it unlikely that the used ones will ever find their way to anywhere other than landfill or recycling and not the oceans.

      Delete