Panicked governments are trying to ban the use of “single use” plastic, but we’ve gone too far to change – at least not for years
I can remember my first encounter with a miracle new product called “plastic”. It was way back in the late 1940s when many of our neighbours and relations were returning from fighting Hitler.
I must have been about 6 years old. A much-loved uncle had served in the Navy and returned to the Karoo to rebuild his life.
He brought gifts for family members, including a small toy car for me.
Until then toys were all made of pressed tin plate or wood, but this was something quite different.
The grown-ups called it “plastic” and marvelled at its smoothness and toughness and the fact that it had its own colours, so it required no painting.
Pretty soon plastic would be used for all sorts of useful things, they declared. It was the product of the future. How tragically right they were!
Today plastic is one of the greatest threats to our planet.
It is killing our rivers and oceans, piling up in horrible mountains of indestructible trash and nobody knows how to get rid of it.
Panicked governments are trying to ban the use of “single use” plastic, but we’ve gone too far to change – at least not for years.
That novelty toy car of 1946 has grown into a monster that’s swallowing the earth.
I have often wondered why we humans have allowed the Plastic Monster to take over and I believe the answer is the usual one – greed and laziness.
They seem to be the strongest motives for any human activity. Items made of wood or metal require shaping, cutting, sawing and painting.
No matter how much machinery you have in your factory, each chair and table you produce is made individually.
Somebody cuts the wood to shape, glues the components together and varnishes or paints the sanded product.
Wood requires trained and skilled hands.
With plastic, once the mould has been made any unskilled idiot can press the button that pumps the plastic in.
You can turn out garden chairs by the million, using one hand and eating your lunchtime sandwich with the other.
Outside every modern city and town you’ll find a new mountain growing. Great lorries visit it every day, depositing more tons of urban trash.
Metal, wood and paper will eventually disintegrate and return to the earth from which they originated.
But plastic will be there for thousands of years, making the mountain bigger and bigger.
As far as I know nobody has found a way to destroy plastic. It’s pointless to bury it and toxic if you burn it.
All we can do is grind it up and spread it around.
We swallow micro-particles of plastic when we eat fish, we swallow them when we drink water. Pretty soon we will live in bodies that contain as much plastic as human flesh.
And just think how excited I was by that little toy plastic car all those years ago.
A young married couple had their first serious argument and eventually the bride said tearfully: “I’ve had enough of your unkindness. I’m going back to Mummy.”
The husband calmly took out his wallet and counted out a handful of notes. “There you are,” he said.
“That’s for your air fare.”
The wife counted it and said: “This is too little to pay for a return ticket.”