Photo via Unsplash

Positively Reeling | By All Means, Bin Off Plastic - Just Shut Up About It

You can't be an eco-warrior while you snap away on 35mm

by Paul Evans
Feb 22 2019, 4:00pm

Photo via Unsplash

Do you remember Britain in the early 90’s? You had to wear a suit to get into nightclubs, or at least in the suburbs you did. At Washington Heights in Reading, bouncers would go round instructing the baggy polyester clad reveller to, “tuck your shirt in mate.”

That would’ve been harder to swallow if I hadn’t already got one up on the muscular enforcers, simply by knowing my own postcode.

See before EU standardised photocards were introduced, the UK driving licence was a just folded up piece of paper. On the door, they’d use an impressive bicep to hold it up and ask questions to the suspected under-ager, like: “What’s your postcode, then?”

"The new worst person in the world is the Instagrammer who publicly laments single-use plastic, but uses the #ShotOnFilm hashtag"

Of course, that was only the second worst thing about the 90s. The worst was people (for example in the canteen at the Students Union), often called something like Jules, saying: “Yeah man, I’m vegetarian too... tuna baguette, please!”

Eating fish somehow wasn’t seen as eating the body parts of dead animals, whether due to a particularly poor grasp of biology, or just by being the worst person in the world, or both. Somehow, it was just seen as more right-on to be a fish eater, like listening to world music, or protesting the Criminal Justice Act.

Today of course, most folk have moved on in terms of both nomenclature and morality. Most folk realise that vegetarians don’t eat fish. In fact, are there even any vegetarians left? Surely nobody supplements a plant-based diet with bovine-cruelty-pus-curd, and poultry ovum in 2019, do they?

But that’s all by the by. The new worst person in the world, the millennial Jules as it were, is the Instagrammer who publicly laments single use plastic, but uses the #ShotOnFilm hashtag.

What is film, if not a single-use plastic? It’s probably one of the only single-use plastics that can in no way be used a second time. It’s almost certainly one of the few coated in silver nitrate chemical nasties. In fact, a single-use is the best case scenario, assuming you don’t snap it winding it on, accidentally expose it, and so on.

Photo: Screenshot

The point of all this isn’t film of course, it’s you. Well, you and me. And the fact that we are all far too occupied with virtue signalling to actually have any virtues. Being mindful and propagating our #mindfulness credentials, it strikes me, are all-too-often mutually exclusive.

The irony of the #BanSingleUsePlastic / #ShotOnFilm bellend is mirrored more widely in all the general displays of moral wholesomeness made via the smartphone - a device that costs a year’s wages in the parts of the world where its constituent parts are sourced, and requires a Congolese seven-year-old to go down a mine to produce.

Meanwhile, ocean plastic is such a cause celebre these days that even Sky News are championing it, via Sky Ocean Rescue. Is it just me, or anyone else thinking: “What’s the catch here, News Corp?”

"Plastic is not in itself an evil material, it is the fact that we use so much of it"

Kicking the shit out of single use plastics isn’t a bad thing, of course. If none were ever used again, that’d generally be an excellent thing. But in terms of climate collapse, habitat destruction and mass extinctions - aka the biggest threats facing the biosphere - we’d be more or less as we were.

What’s more, believe it or not, some environmental advocates speak up in favour of plastic… well not in favour of it as such, but against the current chic of its universal condemnation.

Guy Singh-Watson, founder of Riverford Organics in Devon, said demonising plastic could actually do more harm than good. Unbelievably, Singh Watson started organic farming in 1988, 20 years before the invention of the smartphone and the hashtag.

He recently told the BBC: "The almost religious fervour of some of our customers in being anti-plastic can actually create problems. Plastic is not in itself an evil material, it is the fact that we use so much of it. The biggest environmental challenge facing our planet is climate change - and anything that distracts attention from that is potentially dangerous."

Photo: John Cameron, via Unsplash

The practical solutions for our throwaway societies’ ills are becoming more widespread of course, and that can only be a good thing. Buying palm-oil free shampoos & soaps in bar form, using reusable coffee cups and water bottles: the ways of cutting out day-to-day plastics, thankfully, are ever-more plentiful. You can even get reusable straws. (Or, just don’t drink through a straw... Are you three?)

Of course there are also the courgette cellulose biodegradable plastics, and the recycled algae clingfilms with their cheerful social media edits that are so easily likable and shareable. But these probably worth taking with a pinch of cynicism.

Who grew the plants? Where? Were they sprayed with pesticides and nitrates? The fact that they allegedly dissolve and thus won’t end up in a dolphin’s blowhole doesn’t necessarily give them the green halo. Better yet, just avoid them altogether.

Or, to quote "Faced with the question of paper or plastic bags, the answer should always be neither."

This “don’t do it” approach can similarly be applied to letting the world know you just removed a handful of plastic from the high water mark. I mean, definitely do do it, just don’t feel compelled to let us know. Because in our world of incessant virtue signalling, the one virtue that - if you were honest - would dovetail best with your newfound ecological credentials is a pretty simple one.

It’s a virtue pointed out by many a nasty headteacher, before assembly; a virtue that, even in the fractious world of Brexit squabbling, cuts across party lines: Far be it from us to ever agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg, but we did quite enjoy his recent quoting of Labour’s legendary post-war PM Clem Attlee in appealing for it.

“A period of silence from you,” he said, (which, while not intended as a direct reference to your social media output, nevertheless applies perfectly), “would be most welcome.”

Paul Evans is a surfer and writer based in Southwest France. Keep up with him on Instagram.