What will our legacy for our children be?

Today I was down the beach walking with my 8yr old son when he turned and said to me excitedly  “Mum I found a secret way through the bushes to get to a rocky outcrop.  All you have to do is follow the polystyrene path!”

He said this in such a matter of fact way … just follow the polystyrene path.  As I scrambled through the bushes following Finn on the path that really was mostly made up of decades old broken pieces of foam I tried to recall my secret hideouts as a child.

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Of course there was some litter, in the bushland we would find rusting tin cans, some broken glass and some bits of plastic.  There were things that people threw carelessly out of car windows and littered the highways but luckily I grew up just before this massive addiction to plastic, especially bottles.  So when we found a secret river it was not already littered with detritus that had blown or floated in mass quantities.

One thing I do remember that was littered in abundance though was the detachable ring pull from the aluminium cans.  We used to find them everywhere but then they redesigned the cans so the ring pulls now stay attached and are recycled.

What will Finn think of when he looks back on his childhood?  Will he remember walking on beaches covered in trash, playing manhunt in bushes full of styrofoam?  Will plastic trash be a part of his childhood that he just accepts unquestioningly?  Or will things be so different in the future that a trashed beach will be an oddity?

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Will we have started a real movement away from the creation of all this waste?

I hope when he and I look back in 20 years he will say to me …  Remember when we lived near that beach that was always covered in trash and I used to hide with my friends in the bushes that were so full of polystyrene pieces?  I’m glad people don’t use so much plastic now.  We used to pick up hundreds of bottle caps each beach cleanup.  Thank goodness they made them recyclable.  Oh and wasn’t it weird how everyone paid for single use bottles of water every day.  I can’t imagine not using a reusable bottle and refilling it when I need to.   And plastic bags hahaha remember how people used them for everything!  Even when they could just hold an item in their hands.  I remember seeing a girl drink a McDonald’s softdrink that was inside a small plastic bag, when she sucked on the straw the plastic scrunched in her face … that was so funny!  Why did people do that?

Free Stuff

plasticbagTwo weeks ago I was half of a duo guest speaking to 100+ year 6 students at a Hong Kong school.  Halfway through the talk one of the boys raised his hand and exclaimed incredulously “Do you know they charge you 50c now for a plastic bag?” I said “I know, isn’t it great!” He obviously thought I hadn’t heard properly because he said again “No, you have to pay for it! 50c! You have to buy a bag!”

I said I agreed with the concept and actually thought it would be good to extend it to cutlery, straws and takeaway containers too. There needs to be a monetary value placed on these ‘single use disposable’ items to encourage people to appreciate them as a resource. They are not really free. They are made from precious resources and it costs to manufacture as well as dispose of these products (wherever that may be in the end).  And sometimes it isn’t just a monetary cost if the plastic items harm marine or wildlife.

I tried to explain that it was his personal choice to pay for a plastic bag or not.  He can choose to bring his own bag and keep the 50c.

What got me thinking about this conversation today with the boy was the sight of discarded tissue packets amongst all the other plastic detritus on the beach this afternoon. These mini packets of tissues are such a common sight in Hong Kong, often given out for free with certain purchases.   Not only are they are used for their intended purposes but they are also the cloth du jour for wiping sweaty faces in the humid summer. Every day they are used and discarded in their thousands.  The evidence was here, on the beach.  They were everywhere!

photo (150)In 30 minutes I collected 153 empty plastic packets. Now most of these were obviously purchased but amongst them was a significant amount of the freebie packs that you are offered when you buy a newspaper from Circle K, or were promotional gifts (seems to be popular with phone companies strangely!)

The 2 big questions I have for today are …

Does anyone use handkerchiefs anymore?

Can these pesky plastic packets be made from paper?

153 picked up from one stretch of one beach, how many are on all the beaches in Hong Kong and how many are floating aimlessly through the South China Sea and beyond? And for how long will these plastic packets continue to float around?

This is something that could easily be solved from a design point of view. We need the companies to be more responsible with this packaging.