I have realised a few things recently and have become acutely aware of the amount of plastic that exists in my daily life. It seems that nearly everything I eat or drink comes in some kind of plastic container or wrapping. After a brief period of usefulness to hold said food or drink, the plastic gets thrown out and either spends thousands of years in a landfill, or even worse ends up polluting waterways and oceans leading to the death of untold number of fish, marine animals and birds.
Many years ago I saw an Opera Show about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This catchy name was given to the areas of the Pacific Ocean (gyres) where pollution (predominantly plastic) accumulates and becomes trapped based on the ocean currents. I found the show shocking at the time, but soon forgot about it and went about my daily life, continuing to use all sorts of plastics without really thinking about what becomes of the items once I throw them away. My excuse in South Africa for not recycling was always that there was no recycling points near my home/office/neighbourhood etc. Here in Santiago I don`t have that excuse any more and like I said at the beginning, a few things recently have made me determined to change my ways.
The first eye opener was reading Captain Charles Moore`s book called “The Plastic Ocean”. The books starts with the story of a voyage he made between Hawaii and California in 1997 when he noticed many pieces of plastic floating in the ocean. He began doing more and more research and the book details the shocking results.
This may sound cliched, but the book opened my eyes to the plastic problem in our throw-away and single-use society. I was reading the book when we visited Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in September. As the most remote island in the Pacific Ocean, you would think that plastic debris would not necessarily find its way on to the island`s shores. But shockingly enough, walking along Anakena Beach, I noticed tiny specs of colour. What almost looked like large grains of sand, were actually tiny pieces of plastic debris, broken down over who knows how many years of floating in the ocean. The beach was FULL of plastic!
So, obviously the plastic problem is huge and something that can only be effectively tackled with government legislation, the involvement of the rather powerful plastics industry, the manufacturers of plastic based products and the users of these products. No small task! But as one of the billions of users of plastic, I at least have decided to make some personal changes to my consumption habits.
No more excuses!
So, first things first I had to find my closest recycling point here in Santiago. While there are various points, finding one that recycles all plastics and can be trusted (some municipality recycling schemes have been found to be false) was tricky. The second problem is that the best option I found (through a private company called Triciclos) is 4km from my apartment and the only form of transport I have is my bicycle. But this is still no excuse as I have a rack on the back of my bike and very handy saddle bags which can carry quite a load of squished plastic.
So we have started separating all of our waste and recycling pretty much all plastic, paper, tin, cardboard and glass.
This photo shows our plastic consumption over about two weeks. Quite a lot considering we are only two people. Although, in our defense we had one or two gatherings of friends over this time, hence the large crisp packet and many plastic bottles.
So after sorting out the different types of recyclables – PET, Tetra Pack, Polyethelyne, Polypropelyne, paper, carboard, aluminium, glass etc, I manage to squish most into my trusty saddle bags.
Hard to believe it can all fit in there, but it does.
My trusty bike at the Triciclos Recycling Station. The best part about this company is that each collection point is permanently manned and the guy at this point is always super helpful to ensure that all the wastes go in the correct bin.
So, while I feel like I am at least changing my ways by recycling everything possible. There is a much more important change I am trying to make in my daily life and that is not buying so much plastic in the first place. I came across a very interesting website called My Plastic Free Life about a woman in the States who has basically cut out all plastic consumption. This is a little beyond my reach, but I have at least reduced the amount of plastic I buy in the following ways:
1. Take reusable bags to the supermarket. I have tried to so this for years, but usually end up forgetting the bags at home. Now I am making a conscious effort to never forget.
2. The small tubs of yoghurt I used to buy can`t be recycled here because the manufacturers glue the paper labels onto the tubs. So I have swopped to buying large tubs of yoghurt with removable labels, where everything can be recycled. Yes, it is still plastic, but it is the best I can do until I learn to make my own yoghurt.
3. Instead of using the plastic bags for fresh bread, I now choose the brown paper bags on offer, which of course are then recycled as well. In my opinion brown paper has to be better than plastic.
4. I am going to try and go to the local fruit and vegetable market which is close to my apartment to buy produce that is not wrapped in all sorts of plastic. The added benefit is that things are much cheaper there too. Last week Rodrigo and I went to the market and took note of prices for the first time. The savings we calculated compared to the supermarket were more than 50%.
5. We now try and buy returnable bottles of drinks which means that when we return with one bottle, we get a discount on the price of a new bottle. And the plastic gets reused.
Basically, I am just trying to always be conscious of the plastic in my life and what I can do to avoid, reuse or recycle it. But I am only just starting to evaluate my consumption habits, so if anyone reading this has advice for me, please feel free to let me know…