Plastic Free Ambassador James P Graham lives in Alta Tuscia, Italy. James is passionate about tackling the scourge of plastic pollution in our environment. This week he gives his account of the scale of the plastic crisis facing us all.
Italy is generally considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful and tolerant countries. Beautiful in landscape, culture, history… a place that most people consider at some stage in their life to visit. Even many Italians won’t consider holidaying anywhere else! Me? I’m so enamoured that I’ve been living here five years, and I have a huge amount of respect for my courteous, respectful, intelligent and generous Italian hosts.
However, treatment for public spaces and the environment tells a paradoxical story. Outwardly, Italians state that they honour, respect and preserve the environment but evidence would testify to the contrary. Where we live, in the beautiful countryside of Alta Tuscia, there still pervades a traditional view that humans have the ‘right’ to deposit their detritus anywhere outside their private property to become someone else’s problem! Of course there are laws against this, but these are serially abused. By the side of the road is most common, or in a lay-by, in a wood or forest, or on one of Italy’s beautiful white sandy beaches.
Unfortunately, some Italians have embraced the disposable culture 100%. Plastic plates, cups and cutlery are used even in private dinner parties to avoid washing up, and Italians have been drinking bottled water since the 2nd World War! There is scant regard or consciousness for the fact that plastic, polystyrene or polythene cannot be assimilated into the environment.
Every day I am faced with the consequences of this cultural misnomer, and it has penetrated deep under my skin. The road between my house and the local village is particularly bad, and a few months ago my internal anger forced me to act. I realised nothing can be gained from blaming the inaction of rubbish collectors, local councils, and politicians. If we want a clean environment, we (the general public) must take responsibility onto our own shoulders and clear up the mess ourselves, weeding out those who would spoil the potential harmony that a clean environment offers.
In March and April this year two of us combed one kilometre of roadside, harvesting over 2,200 litres of plastic for the privilege. It was filthy, degrading and exhausting fishing out old plastic bags full of other people’s detritus from the undergrowth, some hidden at the bottom of spiny ravines. The more we looked, the more we found, with some plastic dating back forty years! But it was also liberating, and empowering, this tiny gesture of goodwill towards our planet. I recommend anyone to try it, just half an hour at a time, and you will feel the benefits! One word of warning though….know where to take it before you collect it. After all, you wouldn’t want to be stuck with someone else’s rubbish, would you?!!