Everyone wants to save the world. We’re doing things like reducing single-use coffee cups by bringing our own travel cup with us, refilling water bottles, washing our laundry at lower temperatures, recycling more and buying less. Everyone is becoming more acutely aware of the problems with plastic straws and carrier bags, being shown pictures regularly of injured sea life and mountains of waste plastics. We’re now also starting to notice the change in the climate, even here in the Northern reaches; summers are hotter, winters are wetter, and there are far more disastrous storms in the news.
There’s a zero waste movement and a buy local movement and a slow fashion movement and a…. lots of movements all addressing the same concern: “The Environment”.
Unfortunately, the more I try to help reduce my negative impact on the planet, the more I learn about problems with what I’m doing.
Having thought about it long and hard, I’ve realised that there’s two separate problems whose solutions are often at odds with each other:
* The Plastics Problem
* The Climate Crisis
I’d heard these terms frequently but hadn’t given much thought to how they’re interrelated.
Consider, if you will:
If I want to reduce my consumption of single-use plastics, I should buy ketchup in a glass bottle instead of a plastic bottle. BUT glass containers are thicker than plastic and glass weighs more than plastic which means that it takes more fuel to transport the same volume of ketchup. I’m reducing my plastics usage but I’m increasing my carbon footprint.
Lots of fruit and veg is packaged in single-use plastic to reduce spoilage which would create methane, a greenhouse gas known to make the climate crisis worse.
If I want to buy not-in-season produce, I could still buy local in an effort to reduce my carbon footprint BUT the carbon footprint of keeping that produce chilled locally to increase its lifespan likely has a higher footprint than shipping it fresh from across the world where it’s currently in-season. [source]
So what are we meant to do about it?
We need to work out the priorities:
1) The climate crisis will result in wholesale destruction of the Earths biomes as they currently exist, rendering extinct vast numbers of species (possibly including mankind).
2) Plastics are injuring vasts numbers of species in all of Earth’s biomes. Ther will likely be some extinction associated with plastics due to the decimations of local populations injured by the plastics.
This leads me to the conclusion that, where packaging-free is not an option, I should choose to use plastic, as it’s helping minimise the climate issues. It feels wrong endorsing the use of plastic but it DOES have its place. I just need to work on reducing my impact with regards to BOTH my plastics consumption AND my climate impact, but focus on lowering my climate impact where I can.
The most important thing that I need to do is consume less. Reduce the amount of everything that we buy, from clothes to veg. “Make Do and Mend” and “Dig for Victory” come to mind.