Plastic PR

Freshly packed in Scotland
"Freshly packed"

It would be nice to think that some of the biggest corporations on the planet are doing their level best to help end the scourge of plastic waste, wouldn't it?

Unfortunately, and despite appearances to the contrary, these international efforts do not quite match the hype.

Look, plastic is bad, right? It get put into the ground, washed into the oceans or their compounds waft into the air when they are incinerated. Aside from choking wildlife, ruining rivers and smothering beaches, small particles are now turning up in human bodies.

It's not good.

So, when a group of oil producers got together to fund a programme called The Alliance To End Plastic Waste and pumped $ 1.5 billion into projects that sought to remove plastic from the environment, it probably seemed like a positive thing and I would really love to report that the organisation managed to make a slight dent in the problem. Unfortunately, I can't because they didn't.

It seems that the 'partners' that form the Alliance can't quite get to grips with removing plastic waste, as this report from Reuters testifies HERE

Far from using some of the $ 5 million paid to it to actively deal with plastic waste, the optimistically titled 'Renew Oceans' organisation has instead stopped trading (in the UK we call this 'going bust', but corporate-speak sounds more funky, don't you think?). Apparently, they did manage to remove a couple of tons from a river in Singapore, but that was before they got 'technical problems', their waste capturing devices (nets) 'malfunctioned' (broke).

Quite what they actually spent the money on isn't clear. A photograph of their HQ reveals little in the way of sophisticated apparatus, and instead consists of a wheelbarrow and some metal grids plus some containers (at first glance apparently made from plastic).

Yet another organisation that has benefitted greatly is Project STOP, a waste processing facility in Jembrana, Bali. It was promised to be up and running last year so I asked the company how much waste it had processed to date.

Unfortunately I still don't know because they refused to reply.

I am guessing that is is still 'not operational' (corporation-speak for any number of reasons why they are not doing what they said they would).

It is also not clear what the petrochemical companies expected to gain from pouring such vast reserves of cash into the Alliance, which has a list of 'partners' lining up to take a share of the loot, except possibly as a public-relations exercise.

That this huge amount of money is considered good value in mitigating negative comments by those people actually interested in helping reduce plastic pollution is a testament to the pervasive power of big oil. Unfortunately, is does little to mitigate the real problem.

So perhaps the answer lies with us, the consumers, because after all we are nearly always the end-users of plastics. Even so, this is easier said than done. Plastic infects our products in all sorts of nefarious ways, from glass jars that have a thin wrapping of the material around the lid to little plastic inserts in the top of plastic milk bottles and thread-like ribbons that hold the lids onto cooking oil containers. And these are just the small pieces.

Ever noticed the yards of plastic wrapping that envelopes your vegetables and fruits at the supermarket? Or what about the cereals, cheeses, breads - in fact just about every product you care to mention - that is covered in plastic?

Refusing to buy these products would hopefully send a message to their makers that unnecessarily swamping the planet with the stuff is actually a terrible idea.

Those of us who care enough are up against it, though. Oil, the base material for plastic, is under pressure, so producers are searching for new things to turn it into and plastic is perhaps the easiest of the alternatives to churn out. Plastic production is therefore set to increase, piling ever more material into a fragile environment already suffering from years of pollution.

I would like to give you an example of this madness. I recently bought a small handful of spring onions in my local supermarket (Yes, I know I shouldn't have but I was half-crazed from wandering around the freezing aisles).

The six or so stalks were completely enveloped in a plastic bag, for a start. Added to this was another plastic insert. About 4 inches long by 2 wide, the tab was brightly coloured with the Scottish flag, proudly bearing the legend "FRESHLY PACKED IN SCOTLAND".

Freshly packed? Could someone please tell me what that even means?

The reverse side told me that I was buying SPRING ONIONS, just in case I wasn't entirely sure of my purchase and in fact had mistakenly believed the green and white stalks to be chopsticks.

And whilst it was gladdening to know that the small group of bulbs had contributed to the Scottish economy by becoming a job for someone to make a bag, for someone else to design and make the tab and yet another to put them into said bag, I was not surprised to read the final wording on the reverse;


Who knows where this piece of material will be a year from now? Perhaps it will be several feet underground at my local landfill, or perhaps in Myanmar or even swimming joyfully around the Pacific along with billions of other pieces of colourful and very durable plastic.

I can't do anything to get rid of it, either. Is can't be torn or recycled. Nobody actually wants it once it has served its purpose of both catching my eye in a shop and telling me that is was shipped halfway around the world before being "FRESHLY PACKED IN SCOTLAND".

I feel so proud.