The biggest change for me this week has been about plastic. And that’s entirely due to the experience of writing this blog. Someone posted as a comment on my blog last week a link to some haunting photographs taken on Midway Atoll in the Pacific, showing the skeletons of baby albatrosses whose parents mistakenly feed them bright bits of plastic they can forage from the sea. The albatross chicks die, choked on our garbage, and the images show their little decomposing bodies — what look like fine-ribbed and feathered purses, crammed with cigarette lighters, bottle tops, pill packets and the debris of our modern life.
You may remember that I had been trying to cut down on over-packaged imported chocolate bars, but these images have changed my attitude to the much wider issues of unnecessary and unbiodegradable packaging.
Of course, such plastic has an energy cost as it’s made, as well as an energy – and wider environmental – cost as it’s disposed of. So when I went for a long, hot walk round local woodland in Pristina last weekend and at the end of it was offered a little plastic bottle of mineral water from a kiosk, I couldn’t take it – my throat just felt drier at the idea of those albatross chicks who might be drinking from the same bottle top once I’d finished with it. When I bought flowers I told the florist to use paper, not cellophane wrapping. I asked for my juice without a straw when I was in a restaurant, I bought spreads in glass jars rather than the cheaper plastic ones, asked for a paper cup not a plastic one when I bought a takeaway drink. When I was organising a party and needing disposable cups I looked for paper cups in the supermarket but couldn’t find them, so I wrote to the manager telling them why I cared. When the only mayonnaise I could buy was in a plastic tube, I didn’t buy it at all.
As it happens, at the charity I run we had already planned that this week we would hold a day of campaigning against one form of plastic — activities in a local park on the theme of ‘Say NO to plastic bags’, supported by UNDP and UNV. With my Midway Atoll images fresh in my mind I had all the zeal of the Kinder Bueno bar convert as we handed out leaflets, gave kids cloth bag alternatives to plastic and helped them draw designs on the bag to show why such alternatives to plastic are important. We think we reached 1000 people that day, and if each of them only thinks to stop using one plastic bag then that’s a billowing balloon of bags saved from the throats of baby birds, or from clogging Kosovo’s waterways and landscapes.
Meanwhile, my Kinder Bueno bar total for the week is zero, but one day I succumbed to another imported, plastic-wrapped bar, and now that I’m attuned to the plastic in so much that we buy I can see that I need to go further in my efforts to reduce my consumption. And I need to find out how to make mayonnaise at home…