Plastic is back.
Let’s not allow temporary plastic digressions outstay their welcome.
As I tentatively re-enter normal life I feel a bit like Neo in the Matrix after he takes the red pill. But instead of seeing binary code I see germs. A lifetime of happily breathing other commuter’s air, finishing friends’ food and squeezing past people in shops, has been replaced with the sort of germaphobic vigilance normally reserved for eccentric aviation tycoons. In fact, old me kind of grosses current me out.
It’s fascinating how quickly our mindset and behaviours can change. They call these sudden shifts “watershed moments”. Turning points, where there’s a sudden and definitive change in sentiment towards something. For the plastics crisis the final episode of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II was hailed as one of those moments. An eye-opening experience for the British public which we could never unsee. Never again would we be so carefree when it came to throwaway plastic.
Just as I’m now shocked that I never used to wash my hands when getting back from a trip to the shops, our post-Blue-Planet behaviour shone an unfavourable light on our past plastic digressions. All of society was basically living out Elvis’s Vegas years, but replacing club sandwiches with single-use plastic. We were gorging on plastic unconsciously, and in the 3 years that’s followed Blue Planet II we’ve been slowly unhooking ourselves from our reliance on single-use plastics.
We’ve seen new policies, campaigns, materials and business models trying to turn the tide on decades of normalized behaviour. There’s been an exciting boom of innovation, but the work is only just beginning. My contribution was to launch DAME in 2019 with the aim of eliminating single-use tampon applicators. We designed the world’s first reusable tampon applicator, making it easy for women who prefer the comfort of applicator tampons to get rid of the waste. Ever since I started DAME, I made a commitment to walk the walk in my own life and avoid single-use plastic wherever possible.
And I was doing pretty well until the pandemic hit. If the plastic crisis loomed over us like a cloud on the horizon, the Covid-19 pandemic came seemingly out of nowhere. None of us were prepared for the deaths, job losses and all-round societal upheaval this crisis has caused. And certainly none of us could have predicted that 2020 would see a huge glut of plastic re-entering our lives. From the essential hygiene of PPE, to take-away everything, plastic is back.
At DAME we’re proud to partner with the environmental campaigners City to Sea in their efforts to stop oceans plastics at source. They recently commissioned a survey showing 36 per cent of Brits feel pushed into using more single-use plastic due to Covid-19. Pushed by new restrictions or pulled by convenience, it is easy to lapse.
One plastic indulgence always seems to give permission to the next, and before you know it, old habits are back. You may think that now is not the time to jump on the plastic soapbox, but I disagree. It’s important to remember that we were desperately behind on plastic action before the pandemic saw us take a step back, and my concern is that if we give the problem an inch it’ll take a mile; or perhaps a tonne.
A new report published in the journal Science, estimates that a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic is destined for our environment - both on land and in the ocean - by 2040, unless worldwide action is taken.
Trade-offs are inevitable. Where necessary for effective protection, or to keep businesses afloat, single-use plastic will be used. However, where possible we must continue to look for opportunities to reduce and re-use even in the pandemic. But what we need most right now is a moment of reflection and awareness. To ensure we don’t let temporary digressions become permanent, and to take this moment to double down on our commitment to stamping out plastic waste.
by Celia Pool , Co- Founder of DAME