A look back: World Environment Day 2020

In the golden age of the 1950s, entrepreneurs and serial inventors were coming up with the best ideas to make our domestic lives a little better – microwave ovens, coloured kitchen appliances, the first non-stick pan. Bliss, writes Claire Hudson, Tackling Plastics Coordinator at Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful on World Environment Day 2020.

But one invention, hailed ‘throwaway living’ was to be a game-changer. No more washing dishes for hours – disposable cutlery had arrived. Those olden days of constant cleaning were over. Now, we could simply eat our dinner and throw those plates and cups in the bin. And it wasn’t wasteful – it was progressive.

This was the start of massive corporations producing and selling these throwaway ‘essentials’. They were more than happy to sell a product, the same product, over and over and over. They were making life-long, happy customers.

How strange, when we look back now, seventy years later on World Environment Day, on what we thought was acceptable. Now we know the damage that throwaway, pointless plastic does to our environment, thank goodness we’ve changed our ways. Or have we?

It’s not my job to demonise plastic. And it might sound a little strange to hear someone from an environmental charity say it, but not all plastic is bad. We’ve all seen the surge in Personal Protective Equipment since the Coronavirus pandemic began – from protective screens in shops to masks and gloves. Plastic has had a vital role to play. It’s our misuse of this ‘miracle item’ that’s the problem. It is my job though to talk about the plastic we don’t need – pointless plastic.

The amount of plastic which the UK is throwing away is set to rocket by over a million tonnes by 2030 – that’s the equivalent of 87,000 more double decker buses worth of plastic waste each year. And here in Northern Ireland, we face our own problems with pointless plastic – from throw away coffee cups and carrier bags to plastic bottles and packaging. It’s what we call ‘single use plastic’, and shockingly, much of it is in our lives for less than two minutes. More than 70% of discarded items in Northern Ireland, those found on the side of our roads, in our play parks, at our front doors, contain plastic. It’s hard to believe but by 2050, there could be more plastic in our oceans by weight than fish.

It’s my hope that it won’t take another seventy years – or another pandemic – to realise that the damage we’re doing right now with pointless plastic is something that we can change. In fact, what I’d like to see is that we use this time as an opportunity to hit the reset button, to think about what we’re purchasing and using, and what we’re tossing aside. The pandemic has shown us how much we can really change our behavior in a couple of weeks. Do we need to just go back to the way things were, or can we think globally, but act locally now?

The greatest fire is started by a single spark; so make your commitment now to reduce your use of pointless plastic at www.liveherelovehere.org/plasticpromise and help to make all our lives just a little better.

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