I am a professional photographer. Weird stuff occasionally happens to me while I work. One man unzipped his pants and flashed me during a photo-shoot, sometimes adults throw tantrums during a portrait session, and someone stole my toddler’s chair. However, there was one thing above all others that completely baffled me. Someone asked me for the impossible. They wanted a square rectangle. Huh? What?
It’s true. My customer adored a photo I took of their family. They wanted a square photo to hang on the wall, yet they loved the entire full-frame image I captured. The only way to make it square, was to crop some of the image off the long end. She pleaded, “But I don’t want to lose any of the image. It’s all beautiful”. “Well, in that case, you need the whole photo. You’ll have to have a rectangle”. “But I want a square”. This circular conversation went on for fifteen minutes. She literally could not understand she couldn’t have the whole image and have it square — she could not have a square rectangle.
This is a great analogy for plastic and our environment. Plastic is the square and our environment is the rectangle. Plastic is convenience, it makes our life easier, quicker and often cheaper. We love plastic for all it gives us: drinks in bottles, processed food that lasts for months, frozen food kept fresh in the freezer, hot meals we can take away that save us an hour in the kitchen and carry bags to easily transport it without wasting valuable time moving smaller items in and out of our trolley. Plastic, indeed has added the beauty of convenience to our lives.
Our environment on the other hand, is the rectangle, the big picture. It’s where we live, it sustains our life, keeps us healthy, gives us soil to grow our food, clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and an ocean that is the lifeblood of our existence. We want this too. But we must make a choice. We can’t have both. We cannot, as a society, rely on the convenience of disposable plastic as the basis of all our purchases. We are sucking the inside of our planet out. We are turning an organic liquid into a toxic solid that the earth cannot re-digest. The fossil fuels being used in its extraction, manufacture and transport are so enormous, no one has calculated how much it is contributing to climate change. Then, after we’ve used it, usually for just a few minutes, like a sushi tray, we throw it away and pretend someone else will deal with it. The awful truth is, they don’t. No one is dealing with plastic. Our industrialised culture hides it for a little while, until it works its way back into the ecosystem, poisoning our land and ocean. Micro-plastic is now being eaten by fish, which we eat. Plastic has entered the food chain.
Why don’t we stop? Why don’t we force supermarkets to stop packing fresh food in plastic, why don’t we force governments to ban the production and use of all ‘single-use-disposable’ plastic? Because it means hard work. We’ll have to be organised and use our own bags and containers. Food and safety laws will need to be passed that make sure re-usable food containers are hygienic and so much more. It’s a revamp of our society. It will be hard. However, it’s not too hard, we just need to go back fifty years to what people were doing before plastic. But that terrifies us! We’re stuck, wanting the convenience of plastic and at the same time wanting a healthy planet. Yet every time we accept plastic, we are harming our planet’s health.
We want our square rectangle. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot have single use plastic as the delivery means by which we purchase our food, and at the same time have a healthy planet. It’s impossible.
We cannot have a square rectangle.