After almost six weeks of writing posts criticising plastic, I thought that in the interest of balance it was high time I made the case FOR it. It's easy to forget that industries depend on it when you see regular images of marine life and sea birds literally choking on the stuff, but love it or hate it, plastic has transformed our lives over the last century.
Early plastics were lauded for offering an environmentally friendlier alternative to things like ivory and tortoiseshell. The advent of Bakelite and synthetic materials democratised furniture and fashion, making them infinitely more affordable than their natural alternatives. Stretchy fabrics like Lycra and Spandex made underwear more comfortable, while sportswear and swimwear were revolutionised by durable, breathable synthetics.
Plastic keeps medicines and medical apparatus sterile. It insulates electrical wiring and means we can make lighter planes and cars that burn less fuel. It encases the technology of our phones, our laptops and our tablets so we can work and communicate. It protects food from contamination and reduces wastage by extending shelf-life (apparently, a cucumber wrapped in plastic, for example, last more than three times as long than an unwrapped one). It’s light and easy to transport and enables production of things like solar panels and other green technologies that make a positive impact on the environment.
Plastics aren’t the scourge of the earth; it’s how we use them that’s the problem. It’s the avoidable single-use plastics like the bags, the straws, the wet wipes, the ear buds, the packaging – oh, the ridiculous packaging – that we urgently need to rethink. Sure, we need to reduce our own consumption and get smarter with recycling, but we also need manufacturers to get clever with this stuff and make it work in a way that’s cleaner, greener and more efficient.
Starting with tea. PLEASE Yorkshire Tea, sort out your tea bags!