I understand why it’s hard, how it could be seen as a hassle, that’s there’re really not enough time, or energy but once you see and fully comprehend the devastation caused by your actions when you choose the easy way, there’s really no going back. From that point, when thing’s can seem hopeless, desperate and simply too huge for an individual to take on, there simply is no option but to pause, take a deep breath, and start to look at what personal actions you can take to mitigate the harm being wrecked in the name of: oh-so convenient, pre-prepared, plastic packed, wrapped, bagged, take-away, sauce-pot-on-the-side, don’t forgot your plastic packed cutlery set and double shot latte snug in its plastic lined paper cup, sitting snug in its sleeve, lidded of course for the march down the street, what about your sugar sachets- grab extra just in case……
We’ve all seen the photos and heard the stories. That at least two thirds of the world fish stocks are suffering from plastic injestion, including the beached whale who recently had to be put down, the autopsy revealing a large amount of plastic bags in its stomach. The huge swirling gunky pool of broken down plastic floating in the Pacific plus 4 other gyros worldwide, the sea birds taking plastic to feed to their babies who die pretty soon after. The areas around the ominous ‘energy from waste’ incinerator plants with high levels of reported respiratory conditions, infertility and birth defects. The creeping, putrid, landfill sights quickly filing up to a state of overflow. How do those stories connect with our actions on the high street where we are perhaps hopefully putting our trash in the recycling section of the can, if this happens to exist in our neighbourhood. Surely its all going to the right sorting facility and being made into recycled plastic benches? Right?
Unfortunately, there is a high rejection rate from high street bins. By the time it gets there its been crashed into a refuse truck and so what you get is co-mingled hell. Dirty plastic trays wedged together (which could be all different plastics), lunch waste wrapped up neatly in bags with fruit cores and leaking soy sauce sachets, greasy paper wrap stuffed into tubs, half eaten sandwiches crushed into cleaner items. What gets fished out? Well metal has value so the cans are saved- usually with a magnet, dirty paper and card? Nope, coffee cups? Nope (due to the plastic lining)and yes, even when they say recyclable ; thin plastic salad, fruit, sushi trays, and yoghurt pots? nope, simply just too dirty to bother sterilizing or the plastic used is so low quality or heavily dyed that manufacturers don’t want it, its also right now, much cheaper to just make new plastic. Plastic bottles are generally a bit luckier- the plastic used is more consistent and of a higher quality (PET & HDPE ) and there’s a larger market for it.
So, where where does it all go? Waste goes to the dump or an incinerator here or abroad on container ships, which is also where a lot of the plastic deemed worthy of recycling makes it’s way, up to 40% being rejected and then burned or buried. Here there simply isn’t the market for recycled plastic, the toxics become more likely to leach on 2nd use and so manufacturers either use a small percentage or none at all with virgin material. Being transported is where waste can go array, when its collected, flying off into the environment during changeovers, out from the back of refuge trucks etc The dump is also a place where vast piles of trash are being moved around by diggers, the wind carries light, deposable plastics out over the land. Seabirds pick over the haul, spreading dirty food trays in the outer environment. Not to mention the invisible pollution of plastic chemicals leaching into the water table and so into our drinking water.
Once in the environment the waterways are the network that deliver the plastics into the ocean and currents move it around until it gets stuck in one of the spiraling vortex, joining all the other long lost bags and bottles and lids, and pots and unidentifiable scraps and shards, breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces for the next thousand or so years, unless of course a sea creature takes a fancy and dies of suffocation. The same bag can go on to kill others after the first animal decomposes around it. Yes its harrowing stuff.
So, you know where its going. But where did it come from? Convenience food is manufactured; it is not cooked over a stove by a caring cook. Machines in a factory make it with minimum wage slaves doing quality control. The idea is cheap low quality, ingredients, quick production, quick distribution, quick sales, quick consumption.
It is the antithesis of the slow food movement, the organic farmers market and the home cooked meal. The meat, dairy and eggs in standard convenience foods is the product of factory farms, with meat, scraps and offcuts possibly from as far a field as Brazil 4th biggest importer of chicken to the UK [sec 2.3])) where the food used to feed the inmates is non-organic and possibly GMO corn or soy from deforested rainforest.
The vegetables and fruit is grown by large commercial farming operations with depleted soils, a dependency on fertilizer and pesticides to protect the weakened strains from the mono-crop plagues of ‘pests’. A lot of the veg comes from the year round green house production down in south Spain. A small market gardener would simply not have the production capacity to deal with the huge regular orders for consistent ingredients throughout the year. But of course cheaper still is the wheat, hydrogenated fats, sugar, salt, soy and artificial additives added to bulk it up and give it some sort of flavour.
I for one have been guilty of this one. Buying the best organic food for home and grabbing the convenience salad whilst out and about, they can look pretty tasty when your hungry, but barely satisfy beyond filling a hole. It’s that quick fix we are so used to giving ourselves, which is really just another form of addiction. When there really doesn’t seem like to be anything else available it’s a real challenge to face down that grumpy, desperate hungry self and bring to mind the reasons NOT to support these corporate food giants. We can easily find ourselves making exceptions, wrangling and choosing the ‘least worse’ thing.
Well for me, there is no least worse thing. There is no compromise. We have reached a point where we have to make a stand and start supporting only the companies who deserve our money, who don’t put profit before environmental care. Lets support farmers who care for the soil, grow organically, are bee friendly, package minimally and use more expensive compostable options when packaging is unavoidable. Generally, these people aren’t found right outside your office, these people aren’t generally stumbled across at the train station, or the airport or at the hospital or in the high street. Unfortunately, they can’t afford the rent. We simply need to be taking the matter into our own hands in sourcing and preparing more of our own food using raw, simple, earth friendly ingredients and cutting out junky impulse buys!
Best practice is not cheap, it’s not quick and it certainly isn’t convenient, just like caring.
I believe in us!