Reading tip of the day: “The plastic backlash”

Stephen Buranyi, “The plastic backlash: what’s behind our sudden rage – and will it make a difference?”, The Guardian (13 November 2018).

Let’s start the new year on an ecological note. Many readers likely noticed that in the recent months in Europe but also elsewhere in the world, there has been a growing momentum against the use of plastics. The dangers of plastics for environment received a high-profile publicity for instance thanks to the BBC series Blue Planet II, which dedicated six minutes of its last episode to animals who died because they were stuck in netting or with guts full of plastics.

Both individuals, groups and authorities such as the EU have been recently taking steps to reduce the use of plastics. However, getting rid of them is not as straightforward as one may think – they are everywhere, for instance, in the form of microplastics in clothes, or in tyres, from which they are being shed in a large quantity.

The article linked below was published in The Guardian in November 2018 is a very helpful overview of the history of use and manufacturing of plastics, as well as of the recent momentum that has been building against their use. Recommended reading for anybody with an interest in this worthy cause.

For inspiration, there are two quotations worth underlining in particular:

Plastic is everywhere not because it was always better than the natural materials it replaced, but because it was lighter and cheaper – so much cheaper, in fact, that it was easier to justify throwing away. Customers found this convenient, and businesses were happy to sell them a new plastic container for every soda or sandwich they bought. In the same way steel enabled new frontiers in building, plastic made possible the cheap and disposable consumer culture that we have come to take for granted. To take on plastic is in some way to take on consumerism itself. It requires us to recognise just how radically our way of life has reshaped the planet in the span of a single lifetime, and ask whether it is too much.


But plastic no longer seems like this. It is still immediate – it’s in our household products, coffee cups, teabags and clothing – but it seems to have escaped our ability to catch it. It slips through our fingers and our water filters and sloshes into rivers and oceans like effluent from a sinister industrial factory. It is no longer embodied by a Big Mac container on the side of the road. It has come to seem more like a previously unnoticed chemical listed halfway down the small print on a hairspray bottle, ready to mutate fish or punch a hole in the ozone layer.

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