Why I Boycott Plastic - The Story

A few years ago I travelled around the world with the intent of researching injustice. You might already know that arriving home from an aid/missions trip is a bizarre and unsettling experience, but returning from this particular trip was my most disturbing transition so far. It was uncomfortable being English, sipping lattes and living in a country drenched in wealth, opportunity, privilege and entitlement. I felt disloyal to the impoverished people I’d met; disconnected and that I’d abandoned this vague mass of people in their strife. All this birthed in me one of the most important questions I’ve carried:

Is my Western life connected to the impoverished people I've met?

I’ve slowly become convinced that yes, my life and decisions are massively intertwined with people around the developing 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 (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 realise that my highly convenient and cost-cutting lifestyle had dire consequences for other people.

 
 

Plastic is one facet of the conviction that my lifestyle affects communities around the world - and by the way, your's does too. You see, 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, candy wrappers - 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.

For me, learning how my unbound purchase of disposable plastic affects people in other countries changed everything.

 
 

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 fish's bodies and kills them. There are coastal towns who rely on tourism for income, but their beaches are ruined by plastic which is pushed onto their beaches via ocean currents. I’ve realised 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.

Bethan UitterdijkLearn More