Why I Boycott Plastic // Bethan Uitterdijk

Hey y’all, so if you’ve been following me this year, you would know that I have begun a journey to live more sustainably. Plastic is a huge aspect of this journey, and for some time I really saw avoiding plastic as a tree-hugger-hippy-type-of-thing. I thought it only had to do with the planet (which we SO should care about, we ought to be good stewards of the beautiful creation set before us) but Bethan has showed me another side to this plastic problem and I asked her to share it here…

Savannah has graciously freed me to take over her blog and story-tell for you why plastic gets me feisty and angry. Let me backtrack to explain how I got here before I unashamedly try to persuade you to join my bandwagon too.
A few years ago I travelled on an around the world photo school with the intent of researching injustice. Perhaps you’ll already know that arriving home from any aid or mission trip is a bizarre and unsettling experience. I find that I come home with a slightly new prescription for my eyesight where my worldview has stretched and grown. Consequentially, I feel uncomfortable with being English and living in a country drenched in wealth, opportunities, privileges and entitlement.
Whilst I’ve been volunteering abroad on/off since I was 18 (ahem, for the last 8 years), returning home from this photo school was the most disturbing experience out so far. I felt disloyal to the impoverished people I’d met; disconnected and that I’d abandoned this vague mass of people in their strife to return to my own comfort. This birthed one of the most important questions I’ve carried: Is my Western life in any way connected to the impoverished people I met?
I’ve slowly become convinced that yes, my life and decisions are massively intertwined with impoverished people around the world. One of the most persuading factors has been in learning about how my spending influence workers in far-flung places. Am I buying clothes from a factory that doesn’t pay its workers a living wage (and thus forcing them to live in alternative, slum-like housing)? Does my life rely on products that harm the environment or water sources of its producers? I began to realize that my highly convenient and cost-cutting lifestyle had dire consequences for other people.
Plastic is one facet of this conviction that my lifestyle affects communities around the world – and yours does too. Plastic is a synthetic material that is highly functional for us, offering things like bike helmets and IV bags, but 50% of all the plastic we produce is single-use, meaning we throw it away after it functions once. This is stuff like grocery bags, bottled water, straws, food tubs, coffee cups, plastic cutlery – sound familiar? But what’s so bad about throwing plastic away? Because it’s a manmade material, bacteria can’t digest it which means it doesn’t decompose – it just lasts. All those toothbrushes you’ve ever used in your life… They’re still rolling around this globe somewhere. Plastic can take anywhere from 100-1000 years to break down, and when it does, it becomes smaller fragments which enters our water and food systems, harming birds, fish and mammals alike.
There are fishing communities around the world whose industry is affected because the West’s irresponsible production and disposal of plastic works its way into fishes bodies and kills them. There are coastal towns who rely on tourism for income, but their beaches are ruined by plastic which ocean currents push onto their beaches. For me, learning how my unbound purchase of disposable plastic affects people in other countries changed everything. I’ve realized now that I have the power to use this connection (of my spending and lifestyle) in either a selfless or self-serving way. That conviction has been powerful fuel for me. It no longer makes me feel guilty (though that was step one), I now feel empowered that I don’t have to travel on an aid trip to act in love towards impoverished people; my spending in the West can do that too.
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