Plastics have been with us since the early 20th century. (The photo shows a bakelite radio from the 1930s*.) What a fun new product the first plastics must have been. How versatile – plastic can be moulded into all kinds of shapes. It's light, cheap and durable. Ahh durable – we should have thought a bit more about that. You see, the trouble with plastic is that it doesn't break down. (At least not in hundreds of years). About 80% of all the plastic that has been produced since the 1950s (when mass production really took off) is still with us! Either buried in landfill or drifting about as litter.
Biodegradable plastic is an oxymoron
Using corn-starch bags is one thing you can do. You can also buy reusable sturdy shopping bags made of hessian or cloth and think twice about any plastic item that you do buy. Look for alternatives, or at least be mindful of what you use. Write to supermarkets asking them to use less packaging. Every time you throw some packaging in the bin remember that it's likely to be hanging around long after you've gone. Archaeologists delineate time into periods based on technology or materials with the greatest impact on society (such as the Stone Age or Bronze Age). There are many that think we are now living in the Plastic Age, corresponding with our use of fossil fuels (that's what plastics are made from) and warming of the atmosphere. In the future we will be known by the stratified deposits of plastics that will be found in layers of trash. Is this how we want to be remembered? A plastic Mickey Mouse toy, shiny neon bangles, plastic raincoats, biro pen casings.... Looking on my own desk right now I can see - a plastic ruler (handy cos it's see through but where will it go when I throw it away?), plastic-handled scissors, black plastic casing around my computer screen, a plastic stapler, blue plastic intray... the list goes on. I'm as guilty as anyone. But I'm going to try to do better. It's up to each of us to reduce, reuse and recycle. That is, of course, if you love the Earth and your ancestors.
* Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Design Museum. Object ID #404536685; compression-molded bakelite, chromium-plated metal, woven textile; H x W x D: 38.7 × 38.1 × 22.9 cm (15 1/4 in. × 15 in. × 9 in.); Gift of George R. Kravis II; 2018-22-40