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Dialogue - issue #10

What Counts

Words by Chris Packham
Photography by Isabelle Rose Povey

Wildlife expert and naturalist Chris Packham wants to see everyone in the UK contribute to The Big Plastic Count, a collaboration between Greenpeace UK and non-profit organisation Everyday Plastic that is asking individuals, households, schools, community groups and businesses to count their plastic packaging waste between 16-22 May 2022, record the different types they throw away and enter their results onto the campaign website. The aim of the campaign is to persuade the government to reduce single plastic use by 50% by 2025.

The climate crisis and biodiversity crisis will kill billions of us if we don't do something about it. So, we've got to identify with that, see that as a terrible stress on our species and react to it accordingly. And that means that Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion, all of these bodies that manifest similar concerns, and certainly a commonality when it comes to the goal, have to fight very hard to bring this issue home to people.

We've had a furore over plastic drinking straws, we've launched into lateral flow tests, billions of which are being used on a weekly basis. They’re all going to go to landfill at this point in time. We need to stop and think again. The ocean has been choked with plastic. At a certain point in the near future, there's going to be more bits of plastic than there are fish. We've got plastic in our bloodstreams. We've got microplastics in all of our wildlife. It's like so many other aspects of the world. It can't go on. We have to address this. And I think that the only way we are going to address it is through talking about it and coming up with creative conservations which instigate creative change.

Having an audit of the plastic in your space and breaking it down to see what that plastic is, where it's come from, how it's used and where it's going, I think is extremely useful. You don’t have to glue yourself to anything to be part of this discussion. You can sit within the relative comfort of your own home and basically conduct an audit, which will bring us up to date with where we are.

© Isabelle Rose Povey / Greenpeace

© Isabelle Rose Povey / Greenpeace

I think we've got into a habit, and it's very difficult to change habits. We're busy, we're busy, we're busy. So we've come to rely on things that allow us to live an unrealistic lifestyle. That lifestyle is not compatible with a balanced consumption and minimising of waste. It's going to promote consumption, more plastic, more oil, and so forth. And therefore, as a consequence, the way that we designed the economy around that consumption is to expedite it. It's as accessible and rapid as possible. And that means more waste.

We all know what's coming. The scientists have been telling us what's coming if we don't address climate change and biodiversity loss. I still think that the embarrassing thing about the human species is that we are very good at cure, but we're very poor at prevention. And we will all stand there in the chaos, the floods, the burning, the food shortages. And we'll look at one another and say, "Well, they did tell us. We did know this was happening and, oh, shit, now we'll have to do something about it."

One of the key words that we have to involve and be conscious of when we are trying to instigate these changes is kindness, because I think that we'll make more progress by being kind to one another than we will if we berate one another. For me, it's about instigating a transition. I think it's unrealistic to think that people will do something overnight. It's important to understand that people will have to go through a transition. And I think therefore we have to be tolerant. Those of us who are trying to lead them have to be tolerant of the fact that they won't all start at the same time. They won't all do the same things at the same time. They won't do it with the same enthusiasm and energy.

The message here is that campaigns like this offer us the opportunity to empower ourselves as individuals to make a difference. And the offer of that opportunity is what it's really all about. Here we are drawing people's attention to something in their own homes, and we're offering them an opportunity to become conscious of that. And change their behaviour, empower themselves to make that difference. And that empowerment is critical and will be critical to our success, because if we believe that we can, we're not tiny and insignificant, we can make a difference.

And when that empowerment spreads to a home, a workplace, a school, whatever that community is, then it becomes more meaningful. And ultimately what we need is the entire planet community to wake up to this and then demand change from ourselves and from those that govern us. So that empowerment, that opportunity to change being presented through asking people just to sort their plastics out so they can see what's actually happening in their own kitchens at the coalface of their consumption. That's what it's about.

© Isabelle Rose Povey / Greenpeace

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