Welcome to the blog of the course and textbook Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Friday, February 22, 2013

My Day Without Plastic

We all want to tread a little lighter on this earth. The younger generation have embraced green ideals, been convinced of the evils of landfill, that the threat of green house gases is real, and that protecting the Earth for future generations is an urgent task.
Yet I’m writing, and you are reading this blog on a laptop or PC largely composed of plastics  -  the petroleum based, light weight and infinitely versatile material that has transformed modern life but poses complex environmental questions.
Consider these facts:
·         More than a million seabirds are killed every year, either by ingestion or entanglement in plastic debris floating in our oceans and rivers.
·         The Great Pacific Garbage Patch comprises some 3.5 million tonnes of floating ocean rubbish the size of Texas and extending 20 feet into the water column. Experts say will double in size within five years. Link
·         Here in Ireland 99.7% of our plastic waste goes directly to landfill. Only 0.3% in recycled.
·         Crucially, three times more plastic waste comes from our homes than industry.
That last fact got me thinking.  We can no longer blame big business for the millions of tonnes of plastic waste now being dumped in landfill which will be there long after we are gone. Business and industry, strong-armed into compliance by legislation and the threat of heavy fines, as well as the high cost of waste disposal, have embraced recycling more than ordinary households.

New plastic Garbbage Patch discovered in Indian Ocean
Copyright Coastal Care
Link to Coastal Care 
So I decided to try and spend a day without plastic. It was more difficult than I thought. Even before I left home in the morning I was confronted with a dilemma. I was faced with the grim choice of going to college looking like a Z-list soap star after two weeks in the “I’m A Celebrity- Get Me Out Of Here!” jungle or abandon my plan before it had even begun. Plastic toothbrush, hairbrush, bottles of shampoo, conditioner and makeup; even the toothpaste was in a plastic tube. For the first time I could see where all of this household plastic in the landfill was coming from- my bathroom! Even morning coffee on the way to the train station posed problems, a plastic stirrer, a plastic lid and those ridiculous containers of foil-topped milk. I’d already created a sea of plastic.
My college messenger bag is plastic, and so are my pens, so lecture notes were taken with a stubby pencil. And don’t even mention the IPod and earphones that pass the time as I walk around campus. All in all, a plastic free day was becoming a bigger challenge than I ever thought. There were some bright spots at lunch though. Loose fruit in the Hamilton Shop, with a sandwich in a brown paper bag and soup in a cardboard cup from The Science Gallery (ordered without the spoon or the plastic lid of course). Water throughout the day was provided by the many fountains dotted around the Hamilton Building. There is a knack to drinking out of those, by the way. I have not yet mastered it. That’s why I was seen around college like a dribbling fool with massive water stains down my top.
The journey home was uneventful but did give me time to consider that a life without plastic was very difficult, but achievable.  Arrival home though, brought a sharp dose of reality, not least the prospect of no reruns of Friends on my plastic TV, no YouTube videos on my plastic laptop, and no CDs or DVDs to fill my pathetically empty social life.
So, life without plastic is nigh on impossible, but there is something we can do. We can reuse, recycle, and take a far more uncompromising view of how we use and abuse plastics.
Plastics, for all their faults, especially their indestructibility, are infinitely recyclable.  Car tyres can be made into all-weather football pitches, plastic stirrers can become the dashboard of a new BMW, and as we all now know in this country, one plastic bag can carry home a year’s worth of shopping, not just one day. Small changes in terms of how we recycle can make a big difference to the environment and leave the Earth fit for future generations.
Ailbhe Reilly

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