Plastic Guilt

Each day is filled with guilt. We are reminded on a daily basis that we are at risk of destroying the planet beyond repair. Our use and disposal of plastic is devastating the planet. The effects of the global temperature increase of climate change will be irreversible. Animals suffer at the hands of plastic in horrifying ways, ways in which we have been enlightened to thanks to our collective grand-father figure, David Attenborough. Even supermarkets, which one might argue are the route of the problem, are shaming consumers for the use of palm oil and the subsequent destruction of Orangutan’s habitats. We are to blame, and yet many of us feel powerless to be able to make any significant changes.

Each day we find ourselves confronting our behaviour. Choices we may have previously taken for granted. In the coffee shop, paper cups, lined with plastic film and with plastic lids, both not recyclable, are pushed on us with judging eyes as we explain that we don’t have a reusable cup. Ignoring the fact that they could be using ceramic cups, for those that don’t take-away. Selfishly the reusable cup is dismissed for its bulkiness, we already carry bottles and plastic lunchboxes in our handbags, along with an array of totes for spontaneous shopping, we don’t have space for a reusable cup.

One cup, though, does it really make any difference? Imagine the thousands of cups people use each day, all destined for landfill, what difference will one more cup make? How much can we really do, alone? There’s a niggle in the back of our heads. Rosa Parks, she was alone. She made a difference. Our education haunts us as we place the used-once cup in the bin, along with hundreds of others. The parting shot from our favourite coffee shop, laced with guilt.

At school, we were warned we would run out of fossil fuels by 2040. Reusable energy still takes a back seat 15 years later, fossil fuels still being discovered like treasure in the ground. Geography lessons felt less like learning about life on planet earth, and more about the inevitability we would destroy it. Our teachers spoke with an urgency it is hard to imagine now. Fifteen years later, and all the more urgent, they have been hushed, silenced to the back of our memories. Another generation where it isn’t our fault; we didn’t invent plastic, we didn’t lie about its disposal, we can’t do anything about it, we are too small.

As adults, we’re told contradictory statements, it seems like no decision is the right one. Don’t buy plastic clothes. Cotton is natural with no strain of plastic in sight. It will decompose, but the amount of water it takes to make a pair of jeans, is unsustainable. The carbon footprint of producing cotton clothing is huge. If we don’t feel guilty about one thing we realise we should be feeling guilty about another. Paper has replaced single use plastic in the example of straws. Their impact on animals in their disposal is devastating and being a completely unnecessary item we have been quick to stop their use, but where we replace plastic with paper, we are warned of the un-sustainability of that solution. We can not focus on paper alone, as we are warned that forests are already being cut down at an alarming rate as it is. Destroying animal habitats and adding to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There seems to be no simple solution.

It is our responsibility as the children those lessons were drummed into. We have grown up. We are the people who work for the big supermarkets who make long lasting effective decisions, we are the ones that work for the ad agencies that encourage and facilitate the projection of a message that needs to be urgently heard. We are the consumers who evaluate our behaviour and choose the establishments we buy from based on their environmental outlook. We carry those reusable bottles with us, those emergency carrier bags. We evaluate our purchases guiltily knowing the outcome of the material used.

Since we were children we have been responsible for the decisions of the generations before us. Generations before us have ignored the issues. They continue to in some cases sweep them under the carpet. (The leader of the free world denies the existence of global warming, although I’m not sure to whose gain.) Our generation has been loaded with the ammunition of knowledge and the passion to create a more sustainable world. There will always be contradictions and people may refuse to change, from whichever generation, but we have to listen to that guilt - niggling feelings of doubt, those judging eyes when we take the single-use cup. Whilst we are envious that the generation before us didn’t have these worries, from the knowledge we now have about the impact of plastic on the environment, we have to accept that we are the ones that have to make the change. It has to come from us, one reusable cup at a time.

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