Sunday, 27 November 2011

Voyage of a Lifetime

It's nice to know the boy still thinks of me. The following is a direct copy of a book review which Bron saved for me from The New Scientist. The book in question is Plastic Ocean: How a sea captain's chance discovery launched a determined quest to save the oceans, and recounts Captain Charles Moore's experiences of sailing the high plastic seas.

NB. The review was published on page 55 of the New Scientist on 29 October 2011. It is written by Bob Holmes.

Dangerous debris
When Charles Moore sailed his 50-foot catamaran Alguita through one of the remotest, least-visuted parts of the Pacific Ocean in 1997, he was appalled to find plastic flotsam everywhere.

This discovery of what has come to be called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - a vast area of the central Pacific where debris accumulates because of ocean current patterns - set Moore off on a crusade to measure, identify and, ultimately, try to prevent plastic pollution of the ocean. A decade and a half later, Moore's obsession has led to several scientific papers, documentary films, numerous media appearances, and now a book.

"I wasn't the first to be disturbed about plastic trash in the ocean, and I wasn't the first to study it," he writes in Plastic Ocean. "But maybe I was the first to freak out about it."

And freak out he certainly did. Chapter by chapter, Moore recounts his growing alarm as he learns about the abundance of plastic debris in the ocean and the ways it can get there. He also documents the clear harm that seabirds and marine mammals suffer when they become tangled in abandoned fishing nets or swallow balloons or plastic bags. And he makes a tentative case that even the smallest shards of plastic - the size and shape of plankton, and thus likely to be a eaten by fish and other planktivores - may carry a payload of toxic chemicals into the food chain.

In the end, though, many readers - especially New Scientist readers - are likely to find Moore unpersuasive. Partly that's because his book is a bit of a mess, rambling and disorganised. But the biggest problem is that Plastic Ocean comes across as a bit of a rant.

By his own account, Moore decided that plastic flotsam is a Very Bad Thing long before he gathered any solid evidence of any harm to sea life. And he is prone to making leaps: just because toxins can be detected in plastics does not mean that they are present in biologically meaningful doses. Moore my very well be right in thinking they are, but readers who are looking for a dispassionate conclusion based on the facts won't find it here.

The Other View
Truth be told, I had only read half of this review before I began copying it. So, when I got to the penultimate paragraph I started to have doubts as to whether I should post it or not. But, leap taker or not, Moore's book is surely going to be an interesting read. A shame that, as suggested by Holmes, it may not create many new converts to the plastic cause, but even if it creates one then that is one more person fighting in what I consider to be the right corner.

Two other books on the plastic problem have also been published this year, if anyone wishes to add them to their Christmas list. Firstly, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel was published earlier this year - a copy is currently sitting on my bookshop waiting patiently to be read. Or for what looks like a lighter read there is David de Rothschild's Plastiki: Across the Pacific on plastic: An adventure to save our oceans. I'm eager to get a closer look at this as I love the website based on the Plastiki's expeditions.

The Parent Trap

How does a girl persuade her mum to stop trying to make her throw stuff away?

Since moving out of my shared house with Bron, I've been having a bit of purge. While this is a good thing (I hope) for the charity shops, and for me, it's been an equally bad thing for the state of landfill. The amazing Mrs. Green over on the My Zero Waste blog would surely have a heart attack if she saw the things I've been recklessly throwing "away" of late. For the most part I'm talking small things, out of date medicines I found in the back of the cupboard, an ancient video tape or two, stuff like that, and stuff that I can't even remember now that I sit here trying to remember.

The worst stuff, though, the worst stuff are those things that you need when you have a house of your own, but when you move into another household, as Bron and I have both just done, he to share with a bachelor friend and myself to the alma mater. This is the stuff that neither of you wants right now, but are left with the question: what to do with it in the meantime? Stuff like two plastic waste bins, one from the kitchen, one from the bathroom. Two old tires that came off my car that I'd saved because I had this cunning idea that they could be used as garden planters. A microwave that's going rusty on the inside; ditto with a toaster. A bag full of plastic bags that - even when you don't accept plastic bags from shops - somehow worm their way into your home.

Mix this with:
(a) a set of parents who have unconsciously embraced the modern lifestyle of 'out with the old and in with the new', and
(b) a girl who really doesn't want to deal with the reality of dismantling her home,
...and you get a big trip to the local dump.

I watched those two perfectly good dustbins ("a charity shop doesn't want stuff like like that" and, "I'll buy you a new one", instructed my mum) go sailing over the rails and into the skip - there to sit for all eternity alongside all the other household items the local Cornish folk had gotten bored of this week. It felt so horribly wrong. But (yes, here it is, that 'but') they needed to be out of the house that day, there was/is no space left in my storage rental, and no more space at the parental home for them either. Although it felt wrong, I also felt like I had no other option at that particular moment in time. A word to the wise: never try to clear house from 40 miles away; this is what happens. And where was Bron? Well he, of course, had moved out all the stuff he wanted and left me, in typical Bron-stylee, to deal with the rest of it.

But back to my opening question. Despite the episode with the bins, I managed to save the draining racks from the kitchen sink. Or so I thought...

"I just can't get this clean," my mum tells me while I'm drinking my morning cup of tea. She's trying to clean off the natural accumulation of gunk that any draining rack gets after several years of use (honestly, I have cleaned it since I bought it, just clearly not to my mother's standards).

"That's ok," I said, "You don't have to clean it."

"But its unhygienic. It'll grow bacteria if you put it away like this."

"It's fine, it'll be fine."

"Let's just get rid of it. I'll buy you a new one." Ah, bless her. She absolutely means well. And yes, a new one would be nice. But that's not the point: there's nothing wrong with the old one. It's perfectly usable. And there really isn't that much gunk.

The final word? In this instance, mine. "It hasn't given me food poisoning yet," I commented. To which she, reluctantly, conceded.

The irony in all this is the fact that both of my parents grew up in a time when 'make do and mend' was the daily mantra. My mum comes from a low income background where nothing was wasted. In many ways she's still very much a proponent of this attitude, but - as far as I can tell - only so far as hygiene is not involved. Bacteria be damned if my mum is in the room.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Plastic Living

People keep asking me: “How’s the writing going?”

To which my brain responds: Sorry, err, what writing?

After all, how can I write about trying to live without plastic when I haven’t been trying particularly hard to do the actual living without plastic part?

“Shock! Horror!”
Or so readers may say. “You’ve stopped watching your plastic intake? How could you?”

I haven’t actually stopped watching my plastic intake so much as watched it increase instead of decrease. I could say that I don’t know how it happened, but the truth is I do know. And there are two main reasons - whether they are good reasons or not, I don’t know, but they are my reasons.

1. I’m lazy and I like yummy things to eat. Most of the plastic in my life comes from food - takeaway sandwiches, yogurt, ice cream. Things that I gave up a couple of years ago have crept back into my diet (and, unfortunately, onto my waistline). And when I’m on my lunch break and I’m hungry and I have half an hour to consume enough food to get me through the rest of the day, popping to M&S for a salad or sandwich is quick and easy.

2. Boyfriends are difficult. When I first started my plastic kick, Bron was completely supportive. But, whether he intended it or not, there are, unfortunately, limits to his support. Mostly in the form of whether or not a change I want to make impacts on him and his lifestyle, his habits. And when you live with someone, there is only so far you can go before everything you do impacts on the other person.

Catch 22.
When someone is resistant to change, do you:
(a) try to force the change you want on that person and risk making them either unhappy or resent you for forcing them into something they don’t want? Or,
(b) try to appease them, to maintain the status quo. The risk here being that you wind up resenting them from preventing you from being the person you want to be.

Thus, after two years of studying for my MA and a year plus of that trying to significantly reduce the amount of plastic coming into our house, I was well aware that Bron was reaching the limits of what he deemed acceptable change. Solution: give it a break, have a treat or two, and stop trying to change his plastic habits. I - perhaps rather blindly - hoped that this would go some way to solving the little cracks I worried were forming under the surface of our relationship. Of course, the problem with relaxing a bit on the plastic front is that ‘a bit’ leads to a bit more, and then a little bit more again. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the plastic floodgates had opened, rather that they developed a bit of a leak. So how could I continue to write a blog about reducing plastic?

And now? Well, now everything is different. Those relationship cracks I mentioned? The act of not talking about plastic every day doesn’t actually act like polyfiller, no matter how much you wish it could. Especially when each crack needs a different type of polyfiller. And so, after five plus years of living with Bron, I now find myself back at my parents’ house.

You never can tell where life will take you. And the irony? If I thought Bron was hard to ‘train’ in the art of not buying plastic, my parents (as much as I love them, and as much as they are totally spoiling me right now) are a whole different level...

Welcome to 'A Life Less Plastic', stage 2.