David Attenborough’s Blue Planet ll aired at the end of last year and the issue of plastic was rightly pushed to the forefront of people’s minds. Footage of a pilot whale carrying her dead calf after it was poisoned by plastic outraged the nation, and the government has subsequently pledged to look into banning cotton buds and plastic straws as early as next year. We are finally becoming enlightened to the fact that our planet will not last forever, and single-use plastic is adding to its decline at breakneck speed.
Last month National Geographic published a disturbing image of a stork trapped in a blue plastic bag at a landfill site in Spain, and Attenborough himself took to Facebook to share the image and warn consumers about the effect plastic waste is having on the natural world.
“Please think before you buy anything in plastic,” Attenborough wrote. “Do you need it? If you do please dispose of it carefully. Wherever I go now, whether it be in the mountains, on the moors or on the coast there is discarded plastic everywhere… It’s up to us as consumers to act now, enough is enough, plastic will destroy the world and its wildlife.”
Attenborough is right. It is up to consumers to make sure they dispose of plastic waste properly, but when it comes to using less, it really is difficult when every item in the supermarket is covered in the stuff. I recently went shopping for fruit and vegetables and made a conscious effort to only pick up products that were not covered in plastic packaging. At my local supermarket there was only one loose banana left, but next to it was an abundance of pre-packaged bunches. Most people don’t have time to shop around, they are just going to buy whatever supermarkets put in front of them – the easier, plastic covered option.
Why don’t supermarkets just stop using plastic on bananas altogether? Bananas are already covered in their own planet-friendly packaging provided by Mother Nature herself, so why are leading retail chains not making it easier for customers to reduce their plastic footprint by taking away the option?
It was a similar situation in the mushroom section. Only one type of mushroom was available to be hand picked and taken home in a paper bag, whereas customers who were looking for a chestnut, button or Portobello had no option but to buy them in a plastic punnet covered in film.
At another supermarket customers had limited options to hand pick their own fresh produce, but if they wanted a bag to take it away in the only option was plastic. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.
The plastic issue is one that should be at the top of everyone’s list of priorities. If we carry on the way we’re going there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050 – the thought is grim.
As consumers there are steps we can take to do our bit, but we need to see real changes from companies too. The problem is, why would supermarkets allow customers to buy two loose bananas for 40p when they can convince us to buy five for £1? Once again the plastic problem can be blamed. directly on humanity’s greatest and most deadly flaw: greed.
Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her @SaskiaMurphy on Twitter