Saturday, 27 November 2010

Plastic Cars

"They're only plastic," the nice garage man said to me this morning.

Plastic? They can't be made of plastic! The part he's referring to is a crucial piece of my car. So crucial that in order for me to get home from work last night I was too terrified to drive any faster than 20 mph because if I had to brake hard, or accidentally hit an unruly pot-hole, my wheel could fall off. Which would be bad. Plastic? It's no wonder they broke!

The part in question is a 'lower suspension arm rear bush'. "Your car is poorly sick," I was told yesterday. "Very, very sick." And, "I've never seen one this bad," the mechanic said this morning. Yikes. Lucky I decided to get new tyres fitted for the winter or I probably wouldn't have known there was a problem until I found myself in a ditch.

My 'bushings' are made of polyurethane, which is supposed to be more durable and hard wearing than rubber. Perhaps the advent of plastic has meant that mechanics such as this can be produced easier and cheaper and be - theoretically, at least - longer lasting. But I still can't help thinking to make such a crucial part out of a brittle material like plastic is a bit scary.

Cars... Can't live 'em, can't live without 'em. Ok, technically I can live without a car, but not without completely changing my lifestyle, my work, my friends, my living and shopping arrangements. Which I would love to do... but is easier said than done. And of course there is a lot more plastic in my car than just the inner workings of the suspension system. But I'm just not ready to give it up yet.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Bags of Disappointment

The following 'clipping' is from the UK newspaper, The Times, yesterday (11th November), written by Ben Webster (environment editor):

Supermarkets have abandoned their commitment to halve the number of plastic bags they issue after a backlash from some shoppers.

Retailers are instead proposing merely to continue measuring the number of bags they give away and to reduve it over time, without setting any targets.

Shoppers used more than six billion single-use bags last year, an average of 100 for every member of the population. The bags take up to 1,000 years to decompose and millions litter parks and pollute rivers.

Seven of the biggest supermarket chains, Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, the Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, clsimed last year that they had "narrowly missed" their voluntary target to reduce the number of bags by 50 per cent between 2006 and spring last year.

Over the financial year, from April 2009 to March this year, bag use fell by 43 per cent compared with 2006. But there are signs that usage is rising, with 23 million more bags handed out in May than during the same month last year, a 5 per cent increase.

Bob Gordon, head of environment at the British Retail Consortium, said: "The 50 per cent target is history. We are seeking contiunul improvement, with no specific target."

Some supermarkets had dropped their commitment to remove single-use bags from view at checkouts, he said. "It was too much of a flashpoint at the till and customers were causing too much of a scene about it."

My thoughts
It's a pretty sad state of affairs, really. I can understand that a small percentage of customers might rant about the removal of bags from view, but has it really caused huge scenes in the supermarket? The number of complaints can't surely be more than one in ten customers, if that (i.e. 10 per cent).

The progress that has been made since the initial pledge by retailers may not be as great as I would like, but it is progress none-the-less, and it's terrible to throw that away. Does it mean that customers have stopped thinking about plastic bags? Was it just a fad? I'm genuinely surprised, especially since WHSmiths started charging for bag usage.

I feel some letter writing coming on. In one of the letters I recieved from Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), regarding the voluntary commitment made, David Hands says: "As this is a voluntary agreement it is up to each company to decide on their own strategy for the aims to be achieved. Whilst this is a voluntary agreement, the Government has reserved the right to take steps if the terms of the agreement are not met, though this will be subject to the Review."

So, are the goverment going to take steps seeing as the terms of the agreement have not been met - and seeing as the agreement has now been abandoned?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Use Less Plastic

Use Less Plastic from TakePart on Vimeo.

A Christmas Resolution

How did it get to be November? Christmas is just around the corner again. I try not to think about it too early, but it’s hard when we’ve been planning the Christmas retail season at work since August. And now most shops on the high street are launching their Christmas campaigns, mine included, so it’s getting hard to ignore.

So, I’ve been thinking about Christmas. And I’ve been thinking about how worthless my Christmas was last year, how I essentially chickened out on my plastic challenge, and attached a whole raft of excuses as to why it worked out the way it did. And watching bits of yesterday’s TEDx Great Pacific Garbage Patch event has put me to shame. There’s no doubt in my mind that I use less plastic than I used to, but the truth of the matter is that I do still use quite a lot. That coffee that my manager treated me to the other day, the DVD I was craving, the pre-packaged sandwich I bought because I was too tired and hungry to be bothered with finding an alternative. I pledged to cut plastic from my lifestyle, but I fail continuously. I am a chicken.

Vote with your wallet
The speakers at the TEDx event were passionate and dedicated, and this has changed their lives. It’s truly inspiring, and it makes me want to be better, to be more serious. It is feasible cut out plastic; they do it every day. They “vote with their dollars,” as Andy Keller put it. And so, this Christmas I am determined to vote with my dollars – or, rather, my British pounds.

Hence my Christmas resolution: to buy gifts with no plastic. That’s no plastic packaging and not made of plastic. No DVDs or Xbox games, no calendars with their shrink-wrap. But what I really want to do is extend this resolution to my family and friends: any of you who happen to be reading this blog, can you avoid plastic in your purchases too? Or, at least, in any purchases you may choose to make for me?

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Plastic Symposium Today!

America's TEDx today hosts a day-long plastic extravaganza, including speakers such as Captain Moore, Fabian Cousteau, David De Rothschild, and Fake Plastic Fish's Beth Terry. I really wish I could be there. Luckily, though, it's going to streamed live through the TED website.

Watch the event or take a look at the day's agenda. For UK folks it runs from 3.30pm to 1.00 am (that's 8.30am to 6.00pm Pacific time).

Do I sacrifice the coursework that I'm supposed to be doing today to watch this? I really want to hear everything these people have to say, but I think I might have to cherry pick, as I'm not too keen on sitting in front of the computer until 1.00 am! Fingers crossed that the what I don't get to see today will still be there for me to watch another day.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Bron, meet Werner

Bron is a huge fan of weird German director Werner Herzog. He will watch anything and everything made by, involving, or about Herr Herzog.

But is this inspired short about the life of a plastic bag, voiced by Werner (directed by Ramin Bahrani) enough to inspire him?

Tragically, no. Whenever I suggest he stops using bottled shaving foam, shampoo, deodorant, or shower gel, he immediately turns into Mr. Negative. The transition is so fluid and immediate, it's kind of fascinating to witness. Well, it would be if it wasn't so darn frustrating. I've been using alternatives for over a year now, and I'm still here aren't I? Why is he so closed off to the idea of change?

I've tried the tack of, "Just try it to see, and if you don't like it, you don't have to use it again." He does occassionally, grudgingly, agree to this, but because he always starts off with the mindset that he won't like using the new product, the result is, of course, that he doesn't like it! He knows why I want him to try it, he knows and understands all the problems with plastic, but somehow, somewhere along the line, he fails to care about it. And if Werner can't make him care, I don't know what will.