Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Ugly Truth: Recycling Is Not the Answer

some of the 84 discarded bottle caps found
As I walked down the beach I tried to focus on the beauty of the ocean. Looking to the sea it was so majestic, so beautiful, just like a picture on a postcard, this was the image I would often see on tourism advertising. But the ugly reality was behind me...plain to see and impossible to ignore.

Clockwise from left- beach plastic washed for recycling, litter as far as the eye can see, plastic among driftwood.
It was nice to imagine for a while that all was well in the world, but the reality is stark and shocking, if you just choose to see it and accept it. You see there had been some stormy weather in Miyazaki the weeks prior, and the result was a lot of driftwood and debris washing ashore. The normally smooth sands were littered with literally forests of driftwood, some trunks were bigger than houses! Pretty humbling to see the sheer might of nature. But as you looked closer you could see the plastic rubbish strewn in between the driftwood; bottles, cups containers, toothbrushes, polystyrene chunks, sponges, gloves, ropes, plastic bags, tires and other single use and household plastic, all in various stages of decomposition.

How did all these household things end up here? 
The ugly truth is, we cannot contain our over-consumption, it is overflowing into our rivers and waterways and eventually the sea. Of course people didn't intentionally throw ALL of those things on the beach and in the rivers. While we may have the best intentions to be good citizens by separating our recycling and dutifully putting it at the kerbside, some of that kerbside waste is ending up in the environment. It may be only one toothbrush, 'one' bottle cap or 'one' plastic bag, but now multiply that by 124 million (Japan's population). Now do you see how recycling is not the solution to our plastic waste problem? We need bottles and packaging made out of biodegradable materials NOW. We need bans on single use plastic bags NOW. We need to change how we consume and dispose of things NOW. We are playing a game of catch up that we cannot win.

So how do we make the change happen sooner?

Consumer and retailer awareness and pressure. 

There is a severe lack of this in Japan; for example yesterday I watched as a lady bagged every single item she put into her trolley into a separate poly bag. Every single item! Regardless of whether it was already packaged in three layers of plastic it went in another bag- complete insanity! Meanwhile, somehow, I managed to take home two large bags of groceries without using a single plastic bag or poly bag. All my items arrived home undamaged, with no leakage, no problems.

I also saw four small mushrooms packaged on a plastic tray and wrapped in plastic, singly wrapped carrots, bananas wrapped in plastic inside a plastic box with polystyrene filler. There is no reason good enough to use this much single use packaging. None. I also had to make the cashier remove an item from a poly bag despite already voicing my wish for no plastic.

Whenever you can, tell your local supermarket, grocer, cafe, baker, restaurants, clothing shops, city officials, big corporations, that you want an alternative to single use plastic. Email, post on social media, write a letter, talk to people (I know this is the scariest action but it's surprisingly easy once you start, I promise).

Lead by example until you are VISIBLE. 

Fruit & Vegetables- naked as nature intended
Take your reusable bags, cups,containers and straws. Choose the unpackaged or non-plastic packaged item at the supermarket. Pick up that bit of rubbish that's in the gutter, in the parking lot, by the river, or on the beach.

Maybe someone will see you and stop, and think...that is the beginning.

Not hard to see how the rubbish starts here 
...and ends up here.

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