"I'd been saving up all the plastic I'd used for the last 2 weeks. And now I was faced with the shameful result. I sat down at the table and picked up my fork. This was to be the ultimate sacrifice. The last act of consumerism.
Slowly, I raised an Evian bottle to my lips and began to eat..."
Lately I've been more conscientious about my plastic usage. Unsurprising really, having set myself this goal: to eat all the single-use-plastic that I use in a fortnight.
But, just like going for drinks with your colleagues or running into old sexual partners when you live in Devon, plastic is fairly unavoidable. The mound of it piled on to my dinner plate was certainly testament to that.
With my small exclusive audience of fans piling into the Zoom waiting room, I slowly lit some candles, put on my dinner jacket and took a place at the table. I was ready to begin.
First up on the menu: a little entree in the form of a plastic container. Last Monday a new catering service started bringing food to our office. The office is in a fairly remote business park, with nowhere to eat nearby, except McDonald's (which we'll get to) With the canteen closed because of COVID, these new caterers were made to sit outside in a tent, flogging their wares from a table.
I had a baguette. And, as part of an enterprising enticement, I also received a free bit of lemon and ginger cake. In a plastic box... ! I tried to resist, knowing it would be added to my already overbearing feast, but the promise of free cake was too alluring.
"Thanks for you custom" the sticker on the lid proclaimed. No, no, I thought, lifting the devilish container to my mouth. Thank you. Later I'd regret that I'd so thoroughly cleaned away the lemony-gingery crumbs. They might have provided a small morsel of relief from the grueling trials to come
I tried to tear the plastic with my teeth, but plastic is notoriously durable. It was impossible, and in fact I cut my gums to shreds in the process. ( ho, the least of my worries in hindsight!) I fetched some scissors and cut the box into small manageable chunks. It took 11 minutes to coax the whole thing down. To distract myself I gazed into the living rooms of my invited audience, trying to see what books they had on their bookshelves... peering into their tiny lives, as they watched me making history.
By the end of the container, I was coughing up a small amount of blood. My throat felt like it was made entirely of thumbtacks. This was going to be a long night.
Apparently packaging makes up around 40% of all the worlds plastics. In my supper it was more like 90. It would have become rather tedious had the night not been peppered with cold sweats, tears, vomiting, and - toward the end - the visions.
Hayfever tablet packets, milk bottles, a broken biro. That last made my tongue blue, as though I'd enjoyed a refreshing Slush Puppy. But, crucially, I hadn't. It was bitter toxic ink.
Crisps packets can't be recycled. Annoying because I love crisps. I turned mine inside out so I could taste the salt better. It distracted a little from the ink. A water bottle. Some scrunched up sellotape. I pushed on with my Herculean task. When I felt the vomit rising in my throat, I swallowed it back, determined not to let Capitalism win.
The empty pill bottle was the hardest to get down but, as I reminded my faithful audience, The Climate Crisis is also a pretty hard pill to swallow.
When I looked at their little faces on my screen, they were motionless. Some were frowning or yawning. Many had simply left. Maybe I had myself on mute. I couldn't quite see the screen through my stinging eyes. I repeated the quip. Nothing. I marched on.
Somewhere in the middle of this cold hell, I looked down and saw a small creature gazing up at me. I laughed. "Well, hello," I muttered "a delightful imp." The creature had blueish skin, a green button-nose and kind smiling eyes. He skipped across the table and into my open palm. I raised him higher and whispered, "Are you here to save me?"
He shook his tiny head. "Eat me," he beamed.
I leaned in. "I'm sorry?"
I recoiled, remembered the week before. The trip to McDonalds. The impulsive urge to buy a Happy Meal. And for what? A nano-second of happiness, maybe. A lump of oil transformed into some cheap, lightweight troll. Some tie-in with a garish kids film.
I remembered all the flimsy toys I had discarded in my youth. Hercules. Snoopy. Dennis the Menace. Where were they now? Buried somewhere back on the continent they came from, deep underground, like the oil they had come from. I saw their small cartoon faces whimpering. They would live forever and yet their time in the sun had been so brief.
My blue companion gazed up at me. He was smiling, though a single tear rolled down his shining cheek.
I touched my ear. It was bleeding. Possibly from all the screaming I'd been doing.
I took one last look at my amiable goblin and swallowed him.
Goodbye, my small blue friend.
By this point almost all the audience had left.
I was a husk of a man, filled only with dread and plastic. My stomach felt like the canal basin in Coventry must feel. When I sweated I felt the plastic oozing out of me. But I carried on.
Last week I had thought it would be cute to buy a Polaroid camera, and had accidentally used up some of the very expensive film by pushing the button too early. I momentarily tried to convince myself that these botched photos were art and not waste. What's the difference, I thought, as I rolled them up and slid them into my gullet.
When I came to the moisturiser pot from Lush, again I tried to bargain with myself.
"But if you bring back 5 empty pots, you -"
"You - you - what? When was the last time you brought back 5 empty pots? You jibbering nimsy. Stop kidding yourself and get on with it"
By this point I had lost all sense of myself. I wanted to stop but I couldn't. I wanted to scream out for help, but there was nobody there. My mum was at work. The 3 remaining audience members were staring impassively, waiting for me to finish or die, whichever was quicker.
This is my fault. This will teach me. I understood that. My life had been filled with excuses. Impulse and ease made me reach for those things which I knew would be damaging in the short-term and long-term. Disposable lighters. Vacuum packed avocados. Everything had felt so easy, transparent, shiny, glossy, fun. Fuck! What have I done?
If I survive this, I thought... I'll pack my own lunch for work, I'll buy more in bulk. I'll try to visit one of those eco refill shops (like the one on Fore Street) to get pasta and rice every once in a while. I won't go to McDonalds as much. I'll use bars for soap and shampoo. I'll buy myself a decent pen. I'll bring my pots back to Lush. I'll use my bag for life. I'll always remember my flask. I'll pay my TV Licence!
(That last one wasn't quite as relevant, but I was pleading with God here. With the Earth. With my body. I was looking for an escape.)
"Please..." I whimpered, cramming another used wet wipe into my mouth like an already overstuffed baby turtle. "Please, make it stop."
I remembered the beaches I'd seen strewn with plastic. The ruin of it all. The bottle nose dolphins nosing through bottles. The birds with their stomachs crammed full of pen caps. The ice caps sweating while we sucked more oil out of the ground to make troll-dolls and coffee cups. I wept for the planet. I wept for myself. I cried fat, plasticy tears while I swallowed down another 10p carrier bag. Then I looked down at my plate. It was basically empty. Relief washed over me. I was shaking with joy (and quite probably poisoning.) Almost done. There was just one last thing.
It's always nice to have a cigarette after a long meal, and this was to be no different. I looked down at the ashtray, piled up with scorched, discarded butts. I grabbed a handful and chewed. How bad could it be?
Around two thirds of cigarette butts never make it to a bin. Which means (unlike most plastics which indirectly find themselves polluting the environment) fag ends are chucked straight onto our streets, into hedgerows, onto beaches every year in their trillions.
I know I had contributed to at least some of those trillions. On my walk to the shop, or sitting in a park, reading poems. Smoking might be cool but littering isn't. I probably deserved this.
It was the worst. It felt like my mouth was full of Death. A chemical plant. Plastic fibers and stale, burnt tar. I felt like Chernobyl was exploding inside me. I wanted my tongue to drop out of my head. I wanted this ordeal to be over! Ironically, I rather wanted a cigarette. And a glass of wine. You know, just to take the edge off.
Cigarette butts can take decades to decompose. I wonder how long it might be before I forgot the searing memory of this taste. After what felt like centuries, I swallowed, gulped a hollow plasticy gulp of relief. I looked up at my Zoom attendees, expecting applause. Maybe tears. They'd all gone.
I smiled, knowing I'd really achieved something here. It felt good. Like taking control.
From now on I'd think. Every time I bought food, or went for coffee, or to drop a tab on the street, or or flush a wet wipe down the loo. Some of the things we discard end up burnt. A tiny percentage is recycled. All other plastic ends up in the earth or the sea. And most of that plastic will eventually find its way back to us, destroying eco-systems and animals along the way. And generally making the place look a shambles. Small particles of plastic are already in the foods we eat and, quite possibly, the air we breathe.
I can confirm, after this grueling event, plastic isn't that good for us. We may not have to do anything extreme, like giving plastic up altogether or eating 2 weeks worth of waste. But we have choices now. We always have choices. And our individual decisions can have a huge impact. With that final thought, I reached for my phone and hurriedly dialed 999.
This whole article is a bit of a piss-take. I didn't actually eat any plastic. I think I may have swallowed a Lego man's head when I was a kid, but that's about it... Don't eat plastic, you might die.
Plastic waste and pollution is a very serious issue. Not just something that's having an impact on countries far away. Not just something that'll come back to bite us in a hundred years. It's killing animals, destroying our ocean, getting into our food and just generally making the place look like a shit heap. It's also burning through oil at a faster and faster rate. And once it's made it sticks around forever.
We all need to take action now to slow the wave and turn the tide. I've only really just started learning about the long-lasting and immediate damage plastic is having on ourselves and the Earth. If you want to find out more about how damaging plastic is, and get some useful tips on ways to reduce your plastic consumption, I've compiled a list of resources and websites that I've found really handy
This guide to reducing plastic from BBC Good Food
Why Plastic Pollution is Personal. A TEDx talk by Natalie Fee
recyclenow.com for information on what you can and can't recycle in your area
THIS INCREDIBLE BOOK Turning the Tide by Lucy Siegle (don't get it from Amazon pls)
plastichealthcoalition.org for some pretty eye-opening facts about plastic