Plastic. We all know it’s bad for the environment, yet why is it so hard to ditch this pervasive material? Let’s breakdown the challenge of breaking up with the synthetic partner that keeps coming back.

Everywhere, all at once

You might be someone that does everything they can to eliminate plastic waste from their life, due to the knowledge of how much damage it does to our environment. Or, you might have only recently become mindful of its impact and are beginning to seek out a lifestyle that can help reduce your daily plastic use. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the challenge is constantly there. How can you avoid plastic, when it is seemingly all around us?

Don’t believe me? Plastic is much more common than you may realise.

Think back over the last few days. Have you recently gone shopping, grabbed a bite to eat or received a package? At least one of those experiences would have involved a plastic container, wrapping, packaging or utensil, even if you didn’t want it to be that way. What about the last time you held a pen, used a mobile phone or interacted with something made from nylon or similar synthetic fibres? Try as we might, it is very hard to go a full day without plastic creeping in somehow, some way.

But hope is not lost, dear reader.

Sometimes there is no obvious alternative

Now, I know what the eco-conscious among you are going to rightfully say. Why not just opt for a glass jar, cardboard or paper container? How about choosing environmentally friendly packaging, utensils or just not buying or using ‘the thing’ that is made of plastic?

You may find the perfect product that is entirely plastic-free, only for it to arrive on your doorstep frustratingly clad in plastic packaging.

Well, sometimes it is just not that easy.

Although there has been plenty of progress in the last few years, not all retailers offer plastic-free goods or services. Other times, it’s the case that you may find the perfect product that is entirely plastic-free, only for it to arrive on your doorstep frustratingly clad in plastic packaging. It’s not like you as the consumer have complete, end-to-end control over the purchasing experience. Still, there are some vendors that do provide more sustainable options, a trend that is thankfully growing as more strive to become responsible corporate citizens.

Voting with your dollars means choosing plastic-free options where possible to send a message to companies about the viability of eco-friendly products. But what happens when it isn’t possible? And how long until our messages are heard? The role of plastic pollution in our ongoing climate crisis is not up for debate. Greater consumption means greater production, and that means using more fossil fuels to keep up with demand.

Plastic utensils arranged to spell out S.T.O.P
Dear Plastic… it’s over. Credit: Volodymyr Hryshchenko/Unsplash.

It’s time for a better relationship

When plastic came along, it seemed to be the best thing since sliced bread. We fell for its charm, its versatility, its good looks and flexibility. Yet years later and the bloom is well and truly off the rose. Plastic has been abusing the environment for decades now. We’ve grown tired of its persistence, once lauded as a headline feature, now conversely one of it’s most toxic traits. Our most trusted friends, the scientists and environmentalists, have been telling us to break up with plastic for years. And try as we might, it seems to always find a way back in, no matter how much we show it the door or look to make better decisions.

Maybe the answer lies in getting back out there and trying to find someone better? A replacement material, one that is affordable, flexible and sturdy. Something that fits our needs across many different applications. Sure, glass, cardboard, wood, metal and paper each have their strong points, but they all seem to have trade-offs that render them not quiet complete alternatives. So, what will come and save us from our plastic doom?

Nature itself seems to have provided the solution we need.

Turns out the answer could have been right under our feet the whole time. Researchers have been looking at mushrooms as not only the next best thing, but as a long-term option to replace plastic in a variety of contexts. A recent study on the fungus Fomes fomentarius has illustrated the incredible versatility of this magical mushroom. Able to be cultivated in various forms, ranging from tough and wood-like to soft and spongey, could this fungus be everything we hoped?

It’s possible that nature itself seems to have provided the solution we need. But, we are still a while away from widespread adoption of this organic material. While we wait for further research and development, we must continue to support sustainable alternatives, signaling to companies our demand for eco-friendly options. Reducing pollution requires a reduction in consumption, so if you have to buy something, continue to choose products with low or no environmental impact. And where you can’t, make sure you let companies know that you want to see better options for consumers.

Because plastic should have no place in our lives, our oceans or our landfills.