I feel eyes on me as I sling my nonplastic bag higher over my shoulder.
The lady next to me clutches her plastic bag a little tighter, causing it to make a guilty crinkling sound.
I have noticed that people don’t like being made to feel guilty. But change is something they like even less.
It is 2018, and having our generation being labelled as a “throwaway culture” is not news anymore. Not only am I talking about our excessive food waste, but the single-use plastics we use and throw away daily.
This could be the plastic straw you had with your smoothie this morning or the lid on your coffee cup. We have managed to become so reliant on these plastics on such an unbelievable scale, yet we and our leaders have no plan for how to deal with it afterward. We have seen the countless articles and disturbing images of what these plastics are doing to our sea creatures. Yet we simply don’t believe that one piece of plastic really makes a difference.
“It’s only one straw,” said eight billion people.
Think about the quote you just read. Now imagine the change we could create if those eight billion people decided to make one small change. There are plenty of zero-waste shops popping up all over the world. You don’t necessarily need to go completely plastic free (although that would be nice!), but we can slowly start phasing out unnecessary items.
The problem is, we have no recycling system on this planet that is able to deal with all our plastic waste. Most single-use plastics aren’t even recyclable.
So, how do we get the average consumer to care?
That would be you, the reader, or perhaps your friends and family. Why is it that we, as individuals, feel completely helpless and insignificant when it comes to creating change? We have many idols who have proved us wrong countless times—that one can make a difference and our voices do matter. As C.T. Whitman said, “Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.”
There are plenty of awareness organisations out there to stop the effects that plastic is having on our oceans, but we are still not targeting the average consumer and the choices that they make every day. We will continue to use single-use plastics every day because we like to think that we alone cannot make a difference. That, or we are too comfortable to change our routines.
As mentioned in the beginning, people don’t like feeling guilty.
Think about how stubborn we can be about changing our opinions. Now imagine trying to change someone else’s, who’s just as stubborn.
Aside from us disliking inconvenience and change, I think education plays a huge role in creating change, as this shapes our opinion in the first place. Either someone is educated and aware of the ongoing issues but simply doesn’t feel they have a voice, or someone is not educated and does not see the need for these sorts of changes as they have their own struggles to fight, such as poverty.
Unfortunately, the latter is the one that does most of the polluting, particularly in developing countries. Having lived in South Africa my whole life, I have seen plenty of dump sites next to the roads as well as on the beaches. However, lack of education cannot be solely blamed here. Having our plastics picked up and recycled is not free of charge in many countries. This goes for most wastes, and so it gets conveniently dumped.
For years, big companies have been producing endless amounts of single-use plastics and are not taking responsibility for where these products end up. Most of these companies knowingly continue this, while the developing countries do not have the infrastructure available to recycle and dispose of their waste appropriately.
And so, fingers are pointed at us, the consumer, for the negative aftereffects. If these companies keep hiding behind the accused, we need to show them what we want by voting with our wallets.
I see you with your reusable coffee cup and nonplastic bag. You do make a difference. Your voice is being heard.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” ~ The Lorax