Saturday 17 November 2018

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INDOpinion

Going plastic free – do we really have a choice?

Thursday, 19th April, 2018 9:36am

This Saturday 21 April, is the Sick Of Plastic Day of Action on Supermarket Packaging – the message is about saying no to plastic packaging – but do we really have a choice?

The impacts of plastics on our natural environment is in the news on an almost daily basis and around the country people and business are taking steps to reduce their use of single use plastics. Some things like bringing a keep cup or having a reusable water bottle are relatively easy. Others like avoiding plastic packaging can be more complicated.

It can be difficult to find plastic free options. In some cases, the loose fruit and vegetables are more expensive than the packaged multipacks or the bamboo toothbrush costs more than a plastic toothbrush – making affordability an obstacle to sustainability.

There are also challenges related to food waste; how to reduce the packaging on food without increasing food waste – especially as good progress has been made on reducing food waste from supermarkets in recent years.

But do we really need our cucumbers covered in plastic film? Apparently, it can prolong the shelf life by up to fourteen days.

This is important to producers whose margins are tight and where food preservation affects their bottom line. Consequently, a packaging story that appeals to retailers, consumers and suppliers is complex, but surely not impossible.

There are also trade-offs to be considered when choosing alternatives to plastic for packaging - paper and cardboard can be recycled if clean and dry, but their production consumes resources and to be environmentally friendly must be produced from forests that are managed sustainably.

New forms of plastic can be produced from plants rather than hydrocarbons – but growing the plants to produce the plastic requires water and land – water and land that are also needed to grow food.

How can we be sustainably smart without compromising our wallets or our values?

There are lots of logical, sensible and economical things we can all do to reduce our footprint on the planet and many of these are based on well understood knowledge and experience, often from the past. In a world before cling film, we put left over food on a plate with a bowl over it in the fridge. That still works and you don’t even have to battle with the cling film! In a time before cotton pads, we used a face cloth – face cloths still work.

Clubs, schools and businesses can use their purchasing power to make more sustainable choices, like saying no to plastic straws and single use plastics and sourcing sustainable packaging.

Friends and family can be encouraged to do simple, practical things like pick up litter, refuse excess packaging, invest in a few reusable cloth bags to use on their weekly shop.

Business will feel the change in consumer demand as a result and react to provide more choice. The ripple effect of such actions should never be underestimated. The importance of these simple steps holds weight when everyone is taking them together.

A completely plastic free household, town or country is not possible – plastic in its different forms has a place in our world.

It contains dangerous chemicals safely, has a vital role in various medical treatments and forms part of almost every appliance we use on a daily basis. But the over consumption of throw away, non-recyclable plastic is not a sensible use of resources.

Although we may not be paying the true costs of this plastic addiction now, future generations will.

What we can all do is educate ourselves and ask questions. That is what we hope to do in Kinsale this Saturday where our tagline will extend beyond ‘Shop and Drop’ to ‘Shop, Drop and Learn’. Plastic Free Kinsale will be working with our community and our local SuperValu to raise awareness of plastic packaging and the choices we have to minimise the packaging we buy, as well as spreading the word on what can and can’t be recycled.

We will encourage people to gather their unwanted packaging at the front of the shop, rather than the till as there will be far more room to do it properly there, with less stress to staff and customer alike.

We will have two large bins labelled to show where soft plastics (waste) and hard plastics (for recycling) should go.

We think it’s an ideal opportunity to have some face to face contact with our community, learn about their confusion, and help to provide solutions to the issues that annoy people most.

If you believe in choice and your power to make a difference – this Saturday is your chance to get involved and be part of the conversation.

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