A quick post to let you know how my meeting in London went – I am working with Greener Upon Thames on making the 2012 London Olympics a plastic-bag-free zone. If we succeed, this would be a fantastically high profile way to raise awareness of the perils of plastic bags, and to start getting people into the habit of bringing their own bags – or at least not receiving plastic bags for free.

A quirky photo shoot I did with Matthew Hood in Oxford for the plastic bag campaign

When I rowed past the North Pacific Garbage Patch in 2008, and saw tiny bits of plastic floating in the water even thousands of miles from land, it really brought it home to me just what a phenomenal quantity of plastic humans have produced since it first went into mass production just around 50 years ago. In the blink of an eye (in the overall timescales of Planet Earth), this insidious substance is now just about EVERYWHERE.

We don’t know how long it takes plastic to break down – if ever. It hasn’t been in existence for long enough for us to prove whether or not it ever goes away. As far as we can tell, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, but never truly biodegrades.

And it’s toxic. Sure, some people might care about the fact that plastic pollution kills over 1.5 million marine mammals every year. But what if they knew that it is killing us too? Most plastics leach out hormone disruptors and neurotoxins into water and soil – or into the tissues of the creature that accidentally ate it. And as those bits of plastic get smaller, its toxic chemicals are getting into the food chain lower and lower down, and accumulating to higher and higher levels as we go up the food chain, until we get to those big messy creatures at the top of the food chain – us.

Plastic serves many useful purposes. As regular readers of this blog know, I will be the last person on Earth to give up (or recycle) my iPhone. But it makes no sense at all to make “disposable” items out of an indestructible substance. It’s the single-use plastic items that REALLY bug me – the water bottles, plastic bags, coffee cup lids, and plastic silverware. So unnecessary, and yet so persistent.

So the sooner we ban the bag, the better.

Last week I met with Rebecca Hosking and the folks in Modbury, Devon, the first town in the UK to go plastic bag free. They had some useful tips on how to sell the idea to consumers, shopkeepers, and policy-makers. The Greener Upon Thames people did a fantastic job on the proposal for our meeting at London’s City Hall on Monday. So we were as well-prepared as we could be, and the meeting went really well – much better than I had dared to hope.

No decision as yet, but we have another meeting next month (well, I won’t, because I’ll be in Australia, but the others will carry forward the baton) and we are now hard at work on the next round of refinements to our proposal. It’s more complicated than you might think to ban a bag, but as the first guy to swim the English Channel said, “Nothing great is ever easy”.

It’s great to see the word spreading around the world. Here’s what Jack Johnson has to say (sing) on the subject.

Please help our campaign by signing our petition.

And if you’re feeling in the mood for some more online activism, please remember to vote for me for “People’s Choice” National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Even if you’ve already voted, you can vote again, once every 24 hours. The idea is that National Geographic want lot of engagement (and website traffic!) from the public, so the more times you can spare a daily second to click on “vote”, the better!

Other Stuff:

I am so darned proud of myself. I have finished the first draft of my book. I wrote 110,000 words in 18 days. Phewee. I worked hard, but it wasn’t hard work, if you see what I mean. I already had all my favourite – and most environmentally relevant – stories from the last 4 years, and I’m a very fast typist, so the words just flowed. Provisional title: Stop Drifting, Start Rowing.

Also had some other great meetings during my flying trip to London. I met Oliver Harris of  Stop Ocean Plastics, had tea at the Houses of Parliament with Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond and fellow patron of Greener Upon Thames, and had a few sponsorship-related meetings. Also a chance to catch up with a few friends, including ocean rower Sarah Outen, who sets out on her next adventure around the same day that I do – April 1, 2011.

Right, must run. Time to record the next episode of the Roz Roams podcast with Vic Phillipson!

More info on plastics at the Plastic Bag Free Google Group, and in this video.

10 Comments

  • I’ll have you know I’m riding my bike to Hawaii from California, minus the pontoons! I bought an odometer for my bike and love watching the miles tick off–I’m already at 450 miles. Mind you, these are exclusively “pragmatic” miles, meaning to work, kids’ schools, grocery store etc, and it’s amazing how quickly they add up. Now that I have my “bike legs,” I much prefer to be on my bike than in the car. I should be in Hawaii by early spring! Who knows, maybe on to Kiribati then Australia. Keep up the good work, Roz, and we’re all rooting and voting for you for the “People’s Choice” award at National Geographic.

  • Fantastic blog …. I am going to write an email about this to my Mayor, City Council members and City Sustainability Committee … and then write a letter to the editor of my town’s newspaper!

    And then I am going to buy a bike and ride it from Fremantle to Mumbai with you. Thanks for the suggestion, Bruce!

    But, first, before I do any of that, I tweeted this …

    @Doug350: Catch up with @RozSavage on writing, rowing and ridding wrapping http://j.mp/PlasticBagFreeOlympics #plastic #ocean #climate #climatehawks

    All best!
    Doug

  • I feel inspired to start a campaign against styrofoam food-service boxes used by restaurants for takeout (takeaway). It never bio-degrades but breaks into smaller and smaller pieces and gets eaten by unsuspecting creatures who mistake it for something tasty. It can stick in their digestive system and ultimately kill them. There are plenty of alternatives such as waxed paperboard and even bamboo fiberboard, and they don’t cost any more.

    Styrofoam is coded 6 (polystyrene) for recycling but it rarely gets into the stream because the empty boxes are usually thrown into the garbage. Even if saved, the cost of collection, cleaning, sorting, transport and processing the stuff is rarely economic.

    I shall start here in Grass Valley.

    • Hi John – that is an EXCELLENT idea. Styrofoam is the worst, and there are much better – although more expensive – alternatives available. I think that once people knew the true social and environmental costs of styrofoam, they would be more willing to pay a little extra.

      I would be most interested to hear what you find out about the hidden costs of styrofoam that you mention. I am sure this would help make a compelling argument.

    • J C – Maybe our efforts in Hayward will help you in Grass Valley. Take a look at the staff report, resolution and ordinance http://j.mp/Hayward_PolystyreneBan which was adopted by the Hayward City Council in October http://j.mp/Hayward_CC_101210

      These take time. Hayward’s first report on banning single use plastic bags was presented by City Staff on December 1st and it will be brought to the City Council next December, 2011. Good luck, hope you find allies to help present the case to your Mayor and City Council.

      • Thanks, Doug. I would much prefer voluntary compliance than compulsion by government edict – there’s far to much government intrusion already – but I’ll use what I can of Hayward’s approach.

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