How islands force us to face plastic

How islands force us to face plastic

I recently heard from a friend staying on Eigg to write up her PhD and she asked me an interesting question about how we handle our plastic waste here on Arran. On Eigg, she’s meeting the people who organise the beach cleans and hearing of their frustration at not knowing what to do with the plastic they collect. The council won’t take it, so they’re faced with a choice between ‘hiding it’ in landfill, recycling what they can or burning it (ugh).

When she asked what we do here on this larger island, I realised that we have a slightly different set of options. If clean enough and if it’s the right kind of plastic we can also put it into the recycling bin, though to be honest very little beach plastic ends up there. Or we can send it away in a black bag for landfill. This is subtly different from burying it ourselves on a piece of the land called Arran, which we know and love. It gets hidden in a plastic bag. It gets taken away by the people who are in charge of rubbish. Somehow, the feeling that ‘they’ know what they’re doing replaces the feeling of disgust I’d feel if I had to dig a hole in the garden or up on the forestry. It’s at one remove. And yet I also know from many of the people I’ve met through Eco Savvy that it’s common to feel a little ashamed at sending our rubbish away on the ferry.

Of course if we lived on the mainland, I imagine we’d feel even less responsibility. We wouldn’t even have to think of our rubbish being carried away across the high seas.

To the Earth? It’s all the same I guess – horrible, wherever humans decide to dig a hole and hide our rubbish. Eigg, Arran, North Ayrshire? China? What’s the difference?

The other angle about how dealing with our waste makes us feel is that it’s self-evidently not all ours. Because we live on an island we see it arriving on our beaches, often obviously from far afield. The many people who take a share of the work of cleaning it up are all people who volunteer to take on this responsibility, as fellow humans and people who do care about what we’re doing to the earth. So, more likely to worry too about where it ends up.

With these questions in mind, a group of Arran citizens will be considering in 2018 what we can do together to help make Arran a Plastic Free Island, as part of the Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Coastline campaign If you’d like to join us – and it won’t all be beach cleans, there will need to be visits to cafes and pubs – please contact the editor of the Voice at info@voiceforarran , who will put you in touch with us.

Sue Weaver