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Review: A Plastic Waste Wake-Up Call

Turning the Tide on Plastic
Lucy Siegle

A side effect of the Covid pandemic is the rise in single use protective equipment, much of which contains plastic. We produce 320 million metric tonnes of new plastic each year. Most is made from oil and some eight million tonnes ends up in the sea and waterways. Every minute of every day, one million plastic bottles are used.

Lucy Siegle, a BBC environmental journalist, gathers many of these facts to warn us of the impact on our planet and lives of the excessive use of plastic. Since the 1950s humans have produced plastic the equivalent in weight of one billion elephants. Nearly 80% of all plastic produced is sitting in a landfill site or in our wider environment. The book is not against plastic – we can’t imagine life without the many practical and even life-saving items made from polymers. Siegle builds on the momentum of the BBC Blue Planet II series that brought to our attention the impact of plastic waste on sea life. It is the non-essential, single use and lack of recycling that are being criticised. The reality of finding micro plastics in our food chain is a wake-up call to humanity.

Many of us will feel unable to make much of a difference as so many food and other items are supplied wrapped or packaged in polymers, many of which are not recyclable, even if you understand the system. The book explores the supply chain, applauds the retailer Iceland for leading the way in seeking to eliminate plastic packaging and investigates what happens to our attempts to recycle. The bad news is that in the UK the recycling industry does not have the capacity or technology required. Recently China and other countries have stopped us exporting our rubbish to them, leading to a reduction in the percentage of waste recycled. Recycled plastic pellets compete with oil. If the price of oil drops, then manufacturers of plastic buy oil and it can become uneconomic to recycle even clean plastic.

Do not despair. We can all contribute, from cleaning beaches to auditing our use of plastic. The second half of the book provides ‘new tools, new rules’ – lots of simple tips and practical advice to make changes and break our plastic dependency. Your bin is a source of knowledge! Siegle is critical of the 1970s 3Rs slogan ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’. She much prefers her 8Rs steps: ‘Record, Reduce, Replace, Refuse, Reuse, Refill, Rethink, Recycle. Yes, much harder to remember but she explores each one to explain the rationale to a new way of living.

The hardback version of the book, published in 2018, had to be specially made to avoid having any plastic in it! The paperback is now in the shops. I met the author at the Budleigh Literary Festival where she demonstrated her passion for our environment and the need for us all to change our habits. We have power as consumers to make our planet a more sustainable place to live.

Review by Canon Mike D Williams