A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute.
Photo credit: Jie Zhao/Corbis/Getty Images
And this is set to increase: the million-per-minute around the world will rise by another 20% by 2021. It seems that we - the world - are addicted to the economics, convenience and versatility of plastics. Is this prevalent, and growing, use of plastics beneficial for our health and the planet?
In starting to try and answer the ‘health’ question, we start by observing recent history: it shows a well-trodden path, with four main steps.
First, we trust a product completely, and sceptics are ignored.
Second, evidence starts challenging the benefits of the product and increasingly supports the views of the once-ignored sceptics.
Third, the public and their governments rise up in panic as more and more evidence comes to light.
Fourth, billions are paid in compensation to those harmed.
This four-step path is as familiar as it is awful.
Think of thalidomide. First, it was used against nausea and to alleviate morning sickness in pregnant women. Thalidomide becoming an over-the-counter drug in West Germany in 1957, then….
And the metal, lead? First, lead in petrol was seen as wonderful. It reduced costs of refining and lead to higher efficiency in engines. The "continued development of motor fuels is essential in our civilization" declared Frank Howard, vice-president of General Motors and Standard Oil’s Ethyl Corporation. He also called leaded petrol a "gift of God” then….and so it goes.
And, asbestos? In the 1940s Life Magazine hailed asbestos as the ‘magic material’. It was used everywhere – in schools, factories, offices, hospitals, even in air-conditioners. It coated electric wires and insulated walls.
Then the serious health risks of long-term exposure to it became known, and now it is close to being banned absolutely in the US, and is completely banned in the UK.
And, cigarettes? From the 1930s to the 1950s, advertising's most powerful phrase — “doctors recommend”— promoted arguably the world's deadliest consumer product. “Don't be foolish, take your doctor's advice: smoke a fresh cigarette” people were told.
And now, in 2018, plastic (usually a hydrocarbon polymer) is NOW being declared safe. Undoubtedly, plastic is miraculously useful for our consumption culture. But recently experts at the University of California found that some types of plastic contain chemicals that interfere with our hormones, fuelling obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Are we at step 2 of the familiar 4 step path outlined at the beginning? There are additional niggling question marks that do persist.
Regarding plastic and health of the planet. You would have had to be living in a cave not to be aware of plastics’ harmful pollution – ingested by plankton and whales alike it is very problematic. Plastic bottles are mainly used as water bottles, and the fact that millions of people are drinking hygienic water is wonderful, in itself. But, do we have to use so much plastic in doing so? Are there alternatives? We, at Association 'A Future without Rubbish', think there are.
For example, at the start of our project A Future without Rubbish, pupils at Wilberforce Primary School are given a stainless-steel drinking flask – if they keep if for the academic year during the numerous project activities, they will receive a diploma of their participation in the project. While keeping children always focussed on being hydrated and seeking to reduce our plastic consumption, we have played it ultra-safe – not with the breakable glass (the projects is in a school) but with the inert and safer stainless steel.
But… but …. is that trying to solve one problem (plastic pollution) but creating another? The New Scientist has explained that “you must use a steel water bottle 500 times for its carbon footprint to shrink to less than that of a disposable PET bottle”.
The flasks are infinitely recyclable, a true circular material and 92% recycled, mostly within the UK and European Union.
Brent Meikle from PlastiPure may feel that it is “not practical” to expect everyone to switch to stainless steel bottles, but at Association 'A Future without Rubbish' we think it is even less practical to have our children remain ignorant of the world’s plastic pollution problem (think of the four-step path outlined at the beginning). Awareness of a problem is the first step necessary to finding possible ways to start managing it.
Furthermore, we say “No!” to disposable culture of now, and we help educate children to value things and use the 500ff for their lives.
By adopting a flask (they keep it at school for safe keeping) they become a life agent for our project A Future without Rubbish for as long as they have it.
And the flask itself is useful as a starting point to teach children more about the environment and the world they must be mindful of. The ‘500ff’ logo is something that starts them on their long journey to our future without rubbish and could start yours.
You can order it here and join us on the journey – you will become an agent too for ‘A Future without Rubbish’, supporting the project school of your choice. Come to our next event, near you, with the flask, why not?
Association 'A Future without Rubbish' is a not-for-profit members association, established and run in the same way as the acclaimed association of the same name (in Romanian – ‘Asociaţia Un Viitor fără Gunoi’) in Romania .