Sarcastic About Plastic

Spastic. When my sons were growing up in the 80s, it was a word they learned in school. School for a short while was Highbury Primary. A suburb north-east of Adelaide, it was predominantly blue-collared, far from blue ribbon. Soon, it became a word frequently yelled out during arguments at home. “You’re spastic!” “No. You are spastic!” It was not taken as derogatory. Not by the adults, anyway. Whether the kids meant it to be, I do not know. Today, we do not use that word anymore. It has become offensive. The word is also taboo in the Spastic Society for the spastic cerebral palsy sufferers. They call themselves Scope. With the right support, every person has scope to achieve their goals in life. That is their catch-phrase.

Spastic. A word that was lost in my vocabulary since my sons left Highbury Primary and went to Burnside Primary instead. That was in 1996. So, it has been twenty four years since I last uttered the word. Twenty four years of being politically correct. But, suddenly today, the word sprung into my mind. Spastic. Idiots. Fools. I was a victim of cyber bullying. Some of my sexagenarian friends ganged up on me over a topic that is far from sexy. Plastic. Sarcastic friends. The discussion about plastic turned caustic when one of them accused me of being “what’s the word? It sounds like an oath doctors make.” Obviously, he wanted me to connect the Hippocratic oath with the unsaid word. Hypocrisy. Do I become a Pharisee for voicing my frustration when I see the ubiquitous usage of plastic in their photos? Why do they treat me with disdain and think it is a sham when I talk about the futility of our fight against plastic if urghhlings’ attitudes do not change about plastic? Especially single use plastic. “When in Rome, do what the Romans do”, one of them countered. In other words, they use plastic (proudly) in Penang; and if I do not like it, leave. During the course of our conversation, I became “you” rather than “us”. I was unprepared for this. How can plastic set me apart from these childhood friends? Suddenly, I am made to sound different, inferior, fake, a pariah. Fortunately for me, my father named me “forever strong”. Maybe not physically, but certainly, inwardly and resolutely. They displayed their sense of pride and confidence publicly, for all to see. “Why, do you want to go back to the days of banana leaves and eating with your hands?”, another mocked me. My Malaysian friends are openly happy to use plastic. They reckon I should try drinking piping hot soup with my bare hands if I didn’t want to drink from their plastic bowls. “You’re only environmentally friendly when it is not too inconvenient”, they chastised me. Nero fiddled whilst Rome burnt. Australia has been burning for over three months. These friends are still fiddling. They bragged about their antique collections of E & O Hotel tea cups from yesteryears. Of course, the era of elegance and class did not perpetuate the use of plastic. Fine porcelain, no less. These friends did not see the irony of their enthusiasm for pricey antiques. Such fine items are displayed in their glass cabinets – their practical use, never to be enjoyed. Instead, these friends eat from plastic plates and bowls, with plastic cutlery and chopsticks. Somehow, they see my fight against climate change, no matter how small this step, is a farce. “Are you going to blog about this? Here is a nice title. How about My Losing Battle Against Plastic?” “May we remind you, it makes little sense to antagonise us”. Another climate skeptic. Spastic. Sad. It is no wonder the world leaders are merely paying lip-service to combat climate change. Most people of voting age do not care! Despite global warming, the ever-increasing retreat of glaciers, extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels, my friends’ complacency and total disregard of their environment was astounding. Baffling, in fact. Just like Donald Trump’s, who withdrew America from the Paris climate agreement in 2017. My many detractors in their shrill voices said I was being hysterical, echoing Greta Thunberg’s fanatical screams. Global warming or climate change, I suppose, by its very nature, is a long term shift in global climatic patterns. We are old buggers, unlikely to face major repercussions of what horror that may be ahead of mankind’s future. Maybe that is why they do not care. Inconsequential to us. They might as well joke about it and poke fun at my serious intent to reduce my carbon footprint. “Plasticware is good! They last and last and last”, one of them said. That is the strange thing about looking at things from a different perspective. It is precisely the long lasting nature of plastics that is the problem! Single-use plastic bags can last 1,000 years before they decompose. Plastic is made from fossil fuels, and when they are burnt or left to rot in landfills, they release almost a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, every year. Discarded plastic also find their way into our oceans, even to the deepest place on earth, in the Mariana Trench. We cringe when we see images of dead whales, turtles and dolphins filled with colourful plastic in their stomachs. What is a looming major disaster is the microplastics that are being ingested by marine life, including plankton. It is plankton that play a vital role in capturing carbon dioxide and sequestering it in deep ocean sinks. Apart from this, plankton is of course what keeps the eco-system of the oceans alive. Without plankton, there would be no fish in the sea. Without fish, life as we know it will not be possible. A big chunk of the world’s population will die of starvation. Many today are wary of eating farmed fish; they are skeptical of the contaminants and antibiotics found in aquaculture. But, more and more, it is also the microplastics found in wild caught fish that are turning some of my friends off seafood altogether.

A Royal Doulton set from E&O Hotel in the 1980’s

Surely, my friends can see that reducing plastic usage and increasing recycling is the key to saving the planet. It is satisfying to know that the Australian Open this year will introduce a world-first in the tennis Grand Slams. Their ball-boys and ball-girls will be wearing clothing made of recycled plastic. At present only around 10 per cent of plastic is recycled in Australia each year. One exciting development in this field was announced last year. Len Humphreys and Sydney University professor Thomas Maschmeyer, invented their Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (Cat-HTR) which recycles plastic not from high heat but through a form of chemical recycling that changes the plastics at a molecular level using hot water at a high pressure to turn them back into oil. The oil can then be turned into bitumen, petrol or back into different kinds of plastics. Now, my friends may be right after all, and remain lackadaisical about the horrors of using plastic. These urghhlings do not exhibit any worries. They adopt the “she’s right, mate” attitude. It will be alright, just don’t worry. In the meanwhile, over 25.5 million acres of bushland have been burnt in Australia. Let us not fiddle while the country burns.

A drastic need to reduce our rubbish.