We’ve adopted the single-use plastic habits quite easily, but how quickly can we get rid of them?
I have a professional deformation – whenever I am standing in the line in a supermarket and I see an old lady with bananas (or any other item that already has a wrapper) in a plastic bag, it gets on my nerves. Poor old lady, you might say, leave her be, you eco-freak! Why is it an old lady that bothers me, rather than any other person, e.g. a girl in my age? I’ll tell you why. Girls in my age were born and grew up in the plastic age and therefore have the plastic habits since their childhood-they don’t know any different. It’s not an excuse for their unsustainable choices, of course. My point is, that the afore mentioned old lady once surely had different shopping habits. Before the plastic spree, people used to buy staples such as flour, legumes or rice in bulk, into paper bags, directly from the counter. They’d put the fruits and veggies directly into their shopping bag or basket without any plastic bag or box. However, these habits changed when the plastics became wide spread. Which shows that we are able to change our habits quite quickly and easily if we are given an a more convenient alternative. Plastic packaging was cheap, lighter and it made the products last longer. Now that we know it has had a negative impact on the environment, the questions is, can we change these shopping habits and adopt less harmful and wasteful ones?
I’ll give you another nice example of people changing their habits. Smoking. Take any movie or series from the 1930s till 1990s. No matter whether it is American, French, Czech or Mexican, I bet you will see most of the protagonists smoking. Not just occasionally- most of the time and mostly everywhere! The movies depict the reality, which was, that people were smoking in their homes, cars, in public places, cafés, restaurants…and no one really bothered. Can you imagine that now?! Can you imagine that someone lights up a cigarette on a bus? I surely can’t. Since Czechia still maintains some of the eastern European vibe, it occasionally happens that someone smokes at a bus stop or while waiting in a line (outside). But even here, you should see the faces of the rest of the people. Disgust, disdain, anger. What an impertinence!
My colleague recently remembered his trip to Spain in the end of 90s, when it was normal that people smoked in public transport. It’s not so long ago that most of my family members smoked and it’s only one year since Czechia banned smoking in restaurants (!).
I mean it’s not so long ago that the habits were different, but look at the change in peoples’ perception! Something that was normal and would go unnoticed couple of years ago is now unacceptable and disgusting! I can’t help it but this swift change is just so fascinating to me!
How did it happen?
I guess it has a lot to do with the health effects in this case. There was only a little or no knowledge about the possible links of cigarettes with lung cancer back in the 1930s. When more and more cases appeared and it became public knowledge, the perception of smoking changed. It had to, I guess. And when more studies showed up, proving also the bad effects on the non-smokers who inhale the smoke, no one could oppose the legislation that banned smoking in public places. I guess. This is only my assumption. But it sounds legit. (Tereza, you are so clever!) Most of all, this change was a change towards the better – especially for the non-smokers, but eventually for the smokers, too. Who likes to smell like an ash tray after leaving the restaurant (especially on the day when you had washed your hair?!)? Who likes to wait for the bus having to inhale the smoke rolling on you? Not even the smokers themselves do. The ban chased the smokers out to have their cigarette on a balcony or on the corner of the street and people welcomed that change – to the extent that over a short course of years smoking became simply an unwanted activity.
The question is are we able to change other habits, too? I am talking about the single-use plastic ones now. There is a parallel to smoking in terms of the health effects, but it’s a bit tricky here. Although the presence of microplastics in our food and drinking water has been proved, no one has ever died because of plastics. Animals die, true. But what do we, humans in Central Europe, care about turtles and seagulls somewhere in the Pacific ocean?! (it’s sad but true, face it). That’s one thing.
Another thing is, that if we simply ban the single-use plastics (which the EU just recently did, btw), we have to benefit from it somehow. But do we have beneficial alternatives to single-use plastics now? Those that are less harmful for the environment, but offer the same, or even higher comfort and convenience to us, humans? I think that not for now, but we are on a good way. I strongly believe that alternatives will show up. There is a bunch of new opportunities for businesses with the reusables – reusable containers, reusable hygienic tools (cotton pods, buds), reusable dishes…you name it. And once the single-use plastics ban takes effect and we have good alternatives, we will change our habits (cuz’ we will have to). And eventually our perceptions, too. I am not afraid of that. I can imagine people looking weirdly at someone who puts his bananas into a plastic bag. Why is he doing that?! What a stupid ignorant. It will take years, but it will be like that, I’m sure.
History has proven that humans are capable of changing their habits, so I don’t see why we couldn’t change our single-use plastic shopping habits to something less wasteful.