Sunday, August 5, 2018

Plastic Ocean

Time for another quick dip into the archives. An old piece came to mind this week when the Australian supermarket chain Coles found itself stumbling over the most straightforward of anti-pollution measures. After plenty of advance warning - and revising the commencement date a couple of times - Coles introduced a long-overdue ban on the free plastic-bagging of groceries at its checkouts. Then they were spooked by a blast of off-the-scale-bonkers Murdoch-press opposition and ensuing infantile social media feedback of the "Bringing My Own Bag Is Too Complicated My Head Hurts Don't You Tell Me What To Do You're Not My Mum Bloody Greenies It's My RIGHT To Choke Turtles" variety. (The whipped-up anger was bizarre - people shouted on the radio, staff were abused in stores, journalists received death threats.) In a panic, Coles reversed the ban. They then endured 24 hours of much more widespread public criticism for caving, and after concentrating a little bit harder, drew the conclusion that while this (actually very simple) act was "a big and difficult" change, by golly, this was a mountain they could still climb! So the Bag Ban was back. Next Big And Difficult issue will be convincing the two supermarket majors plus Aldi to dump the even-thicker plastic bags that can be purchased at checkouts as a substitute for the freebies. Is it really so hard to get with the cloth and paper?
When I lived in Townsville, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority got me to do a set of pictures for a children's educational display about pollution and ocean health. It outlined the consequences of mass-produced convenience and single-use plastics, gave stats on animal injury and death, looked at plastic's entry into the food chain, and urged a more thoughtful approach to consumption - basic Reduce, Reuse, Recycle stuff. At the time it really did seem like we were going to turn a corner - the problem was well known, and there was much talk of making amends. I remember being quite hopeful that the industrial-scale geyser of "disposable" plastic garbage was about to begin scaling down. The concepts were clear - the kids at GBRMPA's Reef Wonderland grasped them easily.
It's been 25 years since I did the reef picture job. On land, in the air, in rivers, and at sea, plastic pollution is now a gigantic, poisonous disaster. Massive action needs to be taken to tackle it, both here and internationally... yet here we are, still pretending that a small, easy step - BYO Bag - is "big and difficult". "Quite hopeful" is no longer how I would describe myself.
Here's one of the pictures from the kid's display all those years ago - a reminder of how little distance we've come.

Plastic ocean - airbrush and paintbrush, acrylic on foamcore.