The theory of everything: addicted to plastic and the joy of the Oxfam bookshop.

Well, I have survived the Christmas break for another year! It’s not that I want to sound mean spirited – I love the opportunity to be with friends and family, take time to eat and drink with others, dress up and celebrate, and share a few gifts. I especially love the card thing with loads of brilliant images to look at; the home-made ones have a special place, and there’s always one or two very beautiful pictures, but I love them all; the santas, the snow, the trees and the reindeer! And we always like to celebrate New Year with a few friends, a drink or two and a loud out of tune rendition of Auld Lang Syne – ‘we’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet’…

But I keep forgetting that I mean to tell family members months before the season arrives, that I don’t want any presents this year, thank-you. No more soaps, special shampoos or bath oils (I don’t even have a bath!). Please don’t buy another set of gloves and scarves, nor biscuits or chocolates wrapped in foil and plastic (that I don’t eat). Please don’t waste your money on things that I neither want nor do I want to encourage the making of them in the first place.


Two men walk through smoke from burning plastic waste in Beijing on January 11, 2012. Photograph: Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images

Plastic. Oh, my giddy aunt the amount of plastic that is thrown out, spat out, chewed up and shoved in the bins…only to start its long journey on huge container ships over to the recycling mountains in China…to become what?!

At the weekend I lingered at the supermarket, slightly drowsy from the New Year celebrations, and I hovered by the foil, parchment and cling film aisle. Like a magnet I found myself drawn to the cling film, and heard a voice, much like the devil sitting on my shoulder, saying…You could really use some cling-film for the kitchen. Think of all the left-over food that needs wrapping up carefully for a few extra days life…oh, look! Bio-degradable cling film – that would do the trick!

The difference between Baco BioWrap and normal Clingfilm is that Baco BioWrap is made from a controlled-life, oxo-biodegradable polyethylene and a natural prodegradant is added to the product which means that micro-organisms can consume the low molecular mass products as a food source’

But one quick search on the internet tells me that even if I can believe this story, the challenges of sorting this type of plastic within our waste collections, is so complex that it’s just not worth it. There remains a debate within the EU about whether these kinds of biodegradable plastics are the way forwards or not – see this article here

 Plastic Oceans tells us that ‘The facts are that we are changing our environment as we subject our planet to a tidal wave of plastic waste. We have produced more plastic in the last 10 years than we did in the whole of the last century and this plastic production is having a huge impact. It is using vast amounts of precious oil reserves; approximately 8% which equates to the amount used by the whole of Africa. Almost half of the plastic we use is used just once and is then thrown away – the problem is that there is no “away”. The impact on wildlife, the environment and the potential harm to human health are only now becoming clear. The facts are that we have to do something and do it now.’

Fighting the evil imp on my shoulder I am pleased to say that in the supermarket I bought myself a pack of parchment paper (hoping this was ok) and vowed never to buy cling-film again, bio-degradable or not. After all, if the next step in the Plastic War is to persuade us that some plastic is ok, it’s like saying that Silk Cut cigarettes are less harmful for you – the smoker would never give up! Plastic is just like an addiction for most of us; whether we persuade ourselves that just this one plastic bottle of water is ok – we need it for the long walk we are doing…or that we only forgot to pack our re-usable shopping bags this once, so we’ll just succumb only today to taking one or two of those free ‘disposable’ (sic) thin plastic bags from the supermarket till, just for now…  Or when we have to buy ourselves some new items of clothes, wrapped in plastic so proficiently by those low-paid women in the factories in Bangladesh… or ….when does it stop?

A BBC article in 2013 sums up some of the marine pollution associated with our ‘throw-away’ plastic culture.  ‘Last summer, when filming for a series to be broadcast next year, a team from the BBC’s Natural History Unit saw first-hand how discarded plastic can end up thousands of miles away from where people live when they visited French Frigate Shoals, an island north west of Hawaii. 

There they found turtles nesting amongst plastic bottles, cigarette lighters and toys. And they discovered dead and dying albatross chicks, unwittingly killed when their parents fed them plastic carried in as they foraged for food in the sea. ‘

On Christmas Eve clearing up the house to try and make it fit for the purpose of a Christmas Day meal, I finally took the two boxes of books which had been sitting by the front door for months along to be recyled/re-used to the Oxfam book shop in St Albans.

oxfam bookshopWhat a joy! I took my books in, and delivered them to the table in the back-room, and walked slowly back through the newly painted second-hand bookshop. It was my first visit to the shop since they had redecorated and made the area clean and inviting. I lingered over a few shelves, and was drawn to the children’s book area. Stunned, I pulled out three books for children on astronomy – perfect as my niece was being given a telescope from her mum and I hadn’t been able to find a decent book on the subject anywhere! Here it was: an introduction to astronomy – looked like new with a price-tag of £2. Encouraged, I looked further, and found an autobiography from Stephen Hawking – perfect gift for my partner who was keen to see the new film about the cosmologist ‘The Theory of Everything’.

In all I bought five books from the Oxfam Bookshop costing me a total of £11.50. And I remembered what Christmas used to feel like, when I bought presents that were useful, that didn’t contribute to the poisonous consumeritis of our age, and presents that suited my ever-decreasing pocket! It was a pleasure to shop! And, I fitted them all straight into my large shoulder-bag, walking out with a smug grin on my face. For once, I had done the right thing!


2 responses to “The theory of everything: addicted to plastic and the joy of the Oxfam bookshop.

  1. For several years my daughter, now 21, has asked relatives to give donations to environmental or development charities instead of buying her a present. This year, when everyone in the family started asking about “Christmas lists” my heart just sank. Like you I have enough of everything basic I need; I can borrow new books from the library; most clothes my relatives buy me I usually do not like; I have socks and gloves; I find music on the radio; we buy soap! But the news was full of the devastating effects of Ebola on families in Sierra Leone. I asked all the family to donate to a charity helping with this current outbreak. It was a feeling of relief mixed with hope that maybe next year more of the family will follow my daughter’s wonderful example.

  2. The Oxfam bookshop is great – and it sells goats, cows, farm implements, water pumps, toilets, etc, too, through its gift vouchers for development projects around the world. Perhaps we could put some of these on our Christmas lists next year.

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