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Aunty Babs washes her spoon and so should you

You might have heard that the Collins Dictionary has named “single-use” as its word of the year. Based on the four-fold increase of use since 2015, the pervasiveness of the term across the media is a real win for us fighting the war against our throwaway society.

Sir David Attenborough’s rallying cries during Blue Planet II have resonated in a way that I’ve never seen before. No longer are there eyerolls round the dining table as I try to explain to my partner how some exciting new recycling technology works. The friends who would have thought nothing about grabbing a coffee in a single-use cup for the commute are now proudly brandishing shiny reusable mugs, bragging about the 25p discount they’re getting. Even Aunty Babs now refuses plastic cutlery down in the staff canteen and has a metal spoon stashed in her desk drawer.

I asked her what had been the final straw (pun intended) to move her from the convenient single-use plastic spoon to the reusable one. Had it been sadness and shock at the harrowing news of whales washing to shore with stomach-fulls of plastic litter? Had it been one of the various memes doing the rounds on the internet poking fun at society’s relationship with single-use plastics?

For Aunty Babs, it had been a simple trip to M&S’ café, where she’d seen their commitment to remove plastic cutlery from their stores that encouraged her to change her single-use ways. 

This might seem like a fairly trivial reason to change your behaviour, but it reminds me of when your Mum used to exclaim in exasperation after you’d been naughty: “if they jumped off a cliff, would you follow them too?!”  The answer in relation to refusing single-use things now is… “Yes, actually.”   

We’re watching what others are doing now and feeling the need to join them.  The Scottish Government are committed to delivering a DRS to increase the amount of single-use bottles being returned to the circular economy, schoolkids are shouting for #NaeStrawAtAw, supermarkets are phasing out plastics from their packaging and even Bob Geldof seems only a few plastic bottles away from releasing a charity single about single-use stuff. 

This swelling interest is amazing to see.  But for us in the environment sector, it’s time to step up and harness this energy in a positive way.  We need to use this wave of interest to drive individual behaviour change, inspire communities to think differently and encourage more businesses to demonstrate leadership.  We cannot stand down and think that now single-use is the word of the year that our job is done.  In fact, it’s even more important to get our campaigns right to make sure that a generation of people know what they can do to help our environment and make a difference. 

A useful way to frame thinking on this is to consider Les Robinson’s “Changeology” behaviour change theory. The first elements of this is creating a buzz.  Check – I think we’ve shown we have that.  But what are the next steps?  Hope – showing there are solutions to these overwhelming problems and enabling environments – creating situations and opportunities that allow people to make positive changes. 

That’s how I hope Upstream Battle will pan out.  We’re offering ways for people to take action: whether this is a Clean Up or exploring the issue with their school.  We’ll be working with businesses to encourage broader change, offering workshops that offer new ways of thinking.  We’re pulling together experts to create a powerful voice to inform policy.  We want everyone within the Clyde Valley to be inspired by the campaign, to feel supported to act, and not be daunted by the problem or paralysed with not knowing how to help.

 

So now you know why Aunty Babs washes her spoon.  Will you wash yours too?

31 January 2019

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