This week’s campaign blog features the reflections of A Plastic Planet activist Tom Arden.
I AM a passionate anti-plastic warrior. Last year I worked for the Plastic Oceans Foundation, doing everything in my power to maximise the impact of the unmissable feature documentary ‘A Plastic Ocean’. These days I happily support the team at A Plastic Planet, as they work hard to achieve real, practical change. Steadily yet surely, we are engineering the cultural shift towards sustainable materials that our world sorely needs.
During my travels, I have discussed the challenges posed by plastics with endless people. The most common and vexing question I get asked is: what really is the point in trying to live a plastic-free life? Yes, plastics are harming marine life, feeding climate change and potentially endangering human health. But – these people say – one person’s decision to take his own containers into the supermarket will have no real impact, in a world where eight million tonnes of plastics are dumped into the ocean every year.
As someone who strives to live a plastic-free life, I have given this question a lot of thought. Ultimately, I don’t agree. But I don’t completely disagree either.
The truth is, individual lifestyle changes are far from pointless. When you have seen the things I have seen, you cannot simply turn a blind eye and go on claiming that you’re a moral person. When working on the film A Plastic Ocean, for instance, I was made aware of Tuvalu, a Polynesian island nation in the Pacific Ocean. This was once a dreamy tropical hideaway, but it now lies overrun with plastic. A paradise lost beneath the dross of human civilisation. Such images don’t escape the mind easily.
Personal action is also worthwhile because we set an important example for others to follow. Although one person’s decision to abandon his love affair with plastic might make little difference in the grand scheme of things, his example may inspire his friends to act. Then their examples may inspire others. Slowly but surely the small, barely perceptible ripple turns into the wave of change that we all desperately need. Who knew peer pressure could be such a force for good?
Furthermore, personal attempts to reduce plastic use are important because they help us to identify where the limits of individual action lie. It is only when we start to carve out a plastic-free life that we begin to recognise what larger systemic changes are required if we are to collectively realise a less environmentally destructive future.
It is also true, however, that the attempts of ordinary people to reduce their plastic use are – whilst laudable – not enough. In order to actually solve the plastic pollution dilemma, we need dramatic industrial and political change.
That, of course, is where the invaluable work of A Plastic Planet enters the frame. We can all work hard to reduce our personal plastic footprints but, ultimately, there are limits to what we can achieve without a concerted effort on the part of supermarkets to help. A Plastic Free Aisle would be invaluable to those of us already trying to free ourselves from our plastic addictions. It would also inspire many others to revolutionise their lifestyles. Very quickly, we would start to feel the rumble of the societal transformation that we crave.
At the end of the day, the pessimists who complain about the futility of personal action are only half-wrong. As individuals with moral compasses we should all try to do our bit to chip away at the problem. If we really want to explode our cultural reliance on single-use plastic, however, we desperately need to see industry and government step up to the plate. Let’s show them the way!