Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Where does your plastic waste actually go once you are finished with your packet of crisps or your bottle of water? For many of us, myself included, once waste goes into a recycling bin, I think ‘job done’-when plastic is out of sight, it is out of mind.

Unfortunately the reality of the situation is far removed from this. Living in a Global North country does not mean that all of our plastic waste is controlled and compartmentalised by our governments. In a recent article by GreenPeace, it states that “the UK is the 2nd biggest producer of plastic waste per person in the world, behind the USA”.

We are producing so much plastic that the government is dumping it onto other countries, where it is then burned. Local communities where UK plastic is being burned are developing serious health issues by inhaling the toxins that are being produced. In doing this, wealthier countries are exploiting poorer ones, when they already cannot cope with their own waste. It makes you wonder – how would we react if this plastic was being burnt next to our homes?

In the video below, an animation has been created by Park Village Studios, showing what our daily waste would look like if it were to be piled on Downing Street. On average, the UK government dumps 1.8 million kilograms of waste a day, which fuels many health and wildlife crises around the world.  It perfectly illustrates the extent of our daily plastic waste in the UK, and with the government pushing it aside for another country to deal with, it truly exemplifies that when things are out of sight, they are certainly out of mind. By the government handing over the UK’s plastic waste problem onto someone else, it does not mean that they have dealt with it, but rather have only wiped their names clean from the slate.

Still, we mustn’t discredit our government for some of the environmental efforts they have made. For instance, we are a part of the Paris Climate Agreement, and have pledged to cut down our carbon emissions 63% by 2030 – this is a wonderful commitment, however, are we able to claim cutting down our emissions when most of them are being spewed into other countries from burning waste? You could argue that we are producing less fuel emissions from cars, by implementing “green zones”, and incentives for people who purchase electric cars, but this shouldn’t make up for the 1.8 million kilograms of waste being dumped onto another country and burned every day.

Do you notice the excessive packaging?

If you walk into a supermarket in the UK and make your way to the fresh fruit & vegetable section, you will find that a majority of the produce is covered or wrapped in plastic. The UK has increasingly become a country that is obsessed with over-sanitising, and the Covid19 pandemic has not helped with this. We may all agree that things are over packaged, yet we still go to the supermarket and purchase plastic covered produce.

Making a conscious effort to reduce your plastic consumption isn’t easy and doesn’t happen overnight. Large supermarkets and companies all use excessive packaging, and when buying food from them is a necessity for our population, cutting down plastic consumption becomes arduous.

One could argue that people have the choice to go to places such as organic farm shops or markets that use less plastic, but this takes time, more money and they are not as accessible as your local supermarket. One in six households (17.4%) in the UK were living in poverty before the pandemic. These people rely on their local, cheaper supermarkets to provide them with food. If all of these supermarkets over package their fresh food, the result of plastic waste is immense – so why doesn’t our government help make the decision that supermarkets should stop the use of excessive plastic?

What can we do to help?

There are many things that one can do to help the UK’s overall plastic waste, hopefully resulting in our government taking responsibility for their actions and our  plastic waste being disposed of correctly, not being passed off to other countries.

There are obvious small conscious efforts that everyone can make, little changes by everyone can result in bigger actions and results. There are also many petitions you can sign, or write to your local MP’s about issues that matter to you and make a difference.

Obvious conscious efforts to reduce plastic waste can include:

  • Not purchasing single use plastic (e.g. straws, water bottles, thin plastic bags).
  • Purchasing loose fruit and vegetables (wherever possible)
  • Bringing your own bag to a supermarket
  • Only purchasing or replacing tupperware with more sustainable materials such as tin.

These petitions can help make a difference:

Sharing articles and posts such as this one, and educating your friends and family about these issues can help make small changes. Every little step counts. Doing just a little is infinitely more rewarding than doing nothing.