Beating plastic & the food supply chain

Beating plastic & the food supply chain

Since it began in 1974, World Environment Day is an UN initiative that encourages worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. This year’s theme is beating plastic pollution.
Plastic is everywhere. The keyboard I’m typing on, the tea bag used to make my tea, the carton that contained the milk, the cover on my phone, the polyester in my t-shirt, the pen I used to take notes, most likely in the fish I’ll eat this evening, even in the air I breathe!
We are undoubtedly, wallowing in our own waste.

Plastic is killing our environment and in turn us. No doubt you’ve seen photos circling online of whales washing up on beaches with stomachs full of plastics. Earlier this year, researchers from NUI Galway found that over 70% of deep water fish have ingested plastics. When fish eat plastics, it enters our food chains and eventually us. Worryingly, plastics contain endocrine disruptors, which can be carcinogenic.
The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” fits well here. What does not end up in the ocean, goes to landfill, or another country for them to deal with or incinerated. As one of our Food Citizens said “rubbish doesn’t go away, it just becomes someones elses problem”…..and I would add, someone else’s problem until you eat it…… Just to note, you may not eat fish and still consume plastics as recent research are found.
How did we get here? Since plastics were introduced in the 1950’s, we have created 8.3 BILLION metric tonnes of plastic. Every year, we produce enough plastic to almost outweigh all of humanity.
A key player in creating this waste is our food system. Our globalised, centralised, just in time model of food supply chain that relies heavily on plastics to package, store and move food commodities all around the world. Walk into any supermarket, there are few goods you can purchase without plastic. Even the items that don’t come in a plastic bag, most likely still have a plastic sticker on them.
Our food system is built on a handful of commodities food products that can be broken down to make numerous other, processed goods. To be able to move these around the world, pathogen free and increase the shelf life requires plastic.
I came across an article recently that was “In defence of plastic”. The autor provocatively argues that; “If we were to get rid of plastic today, the loss of the primary form of food packaging would make hundreds of thousands of people sick. Millions would be starving or dead within the year.”
Strong statement and nonetheless true. Plastic, as the author also argues, is the symptom of a bigger underlying problem, our industrialised food system. Despite the claims that our modern food systems ‘feeds’ us (we wrote an article on this before about the difference between feeding us and nourishing us) it fails to sustain us or the environment and the natural resources it relies on. Therefore (another strong statement coming) it represents an existential threat to itself!
Whatsmore, all of us triple pay for the ‘convenience’ of our globalised, centralised food system. You buy the packaged item, you then pay to disposed of it, and you pay again when it destroys our environment and health.
But all is not lost, more and more people are living by ‘zero waste’ principles, from the Keep Cup to the Zero Waste festival, more and more of us are awakening the food citizen in us and realising we have immense power and can shift our food system to one that is nourishing to people and place.
Sourcing directly from Fair Food farmers where you can can also help. Get your vegetables in a reusable bag or box, buy milk in reusable glass bottles or a meat box that comes in compostable packaging. You may pay a little more to begin with, but we all save in the long run.

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