Plastic is undeniably incredibly useful as it’s cheap and long-lasting. But it’s the very qualities that make plastic so useful that also make it such a huge problem. Being made to be disposable has contributed to our single-use and throwaway culture.
We spoke to occupational psychologist Dr. Jan Maskell who explained that we currently have a culture of ‘take, make and dispose’; this also means that we do not generally consider the life cycle of purchases, including the production and disposal processes. It’s become normal to buy something in the knowledge that we’ll throw it away after one use.
Even though we know plastic is a huge problem, why do we still buy it?
Most of us know that we would produce less plastic waste if we took our own lunches to work in reusable containers for example, yet it can be a lot more attractive to buy our favourite sandwich from Pret in plastic packaging. George Marshall, an environmental campaigner and writer, has explained that there are four reasons why the global population has not yet eliminated plastic from their lives, even though we know we should.
Firstly we do not have a personal connection to the issue because we have not put plastic into the oceans directly; we don’t consider that what goes into the bin can eventually swim next to marine life. Secondly, we have not yet seen an abrupt change in our environment as a result of plastic pollution. Also, we only act once we have seen distressing evidence; we can all remember some eye watering scenes from Blue Planet II that touched a nerve. And, finally, Marshall has found that we do not feel the urgency to act now.
Knowledge of the situation is the first step to increasing public awareness and motivation. Are our habits changing?
So, how are our habits changing?
So that we can stop a truckload of plastic entering the ocean every minute we are required to make more informed decisions about our purchases and create new social norms in society. Hats off to you if you carry around a reusable water bottle and avoid throwaway coffee cups. With simple changes like this already happening in our society, Dr. Maskell is positive that we can change more of our behaviours and lifestyle habits to become the new norm.
Dr. Maskell and other psychologists have researched how retailers can help us change our habits through psychological concepts such as ‘social norming’ and ‘loss aversion’. If you are asked when you buy a takeaway coffee “do you have your own cup?” it’s being suggested that the norm is having a reusable coffee cup and people generally want to behave in socially normal ways. Also, people don’t like to lose out on money and so encountering an extra charge for not having a reusable coffee cup will drive people to change their behaviour. Every 25p counts!
Dr. Maskell also told The Conscious Beauty Co. that the bigger behavioural changes will happen once it is easier and more attractive to have less plastic in our lives, there’s more media coverage and eventually legislation. Suppliers and retailers can help drive social change by minimising packaging, making packaging easy to recycle and providing informative labelling.
However, if we demand less plastic and cast a vote with our money that supports going plastic free, we hope that eventually we will see less plastic in our shops and therefore less in our oceans.