Written By Diyana J - 9th July 2021
Plastics – a material known for how easy it is to mass-manufacture but also known for its endangerment to our natural environment. I’ll cut straight to the point because it’s impossible not to be aware of the side effects of plastic use. Take for example, the “Save the Turtles” movement that went worldwide in the year 2018. The use of plastic straws was heavily highlighted in ghastly photos of straws stuck in the nostrils of sea turtles. There was a widespread in social media of short ten-second videos of content creators urging others to stop their use of plastic straws went viral.
Yet, this brings up a dangerous topic; what should we replace them with? The alternatives created to replace plastic straws were stainless steel ones. They come packaged with nylon cleaning brushes and mostly imprinted with logos of different companies backing the “Save the Turtles” campaign. The most outrageous one I’ve seen to date is a makeup company that introduced their own line of stainless-steel straws alongside long lists of lipsticks, mascaras and foundation all packed in – you guessed it, plastic.
A little contradicting, don’t you think?
Back to the topic of microplastics. I spoke to Hazimah (@microplastics_gurl), who is currently pursuing a PhD in Microplastics. We threw ideas back and forth about our local communities’ efforts in battling this issue and what obstacles we, as a society, face as of current.
“We cannot look at this on (just) a national level. It should at least be studied on a regional level. The change is slow and recognition of the problem is only just about to bud here (in Singapore)”, she said.
What comes to mind is the recent news of an elderly lady bringing her own plastic container to her local hawker center for her lunch and getting berated for it. She was publicly reprimanded by a hawker seller, telling her off for bringing her own plastic container and ‘making his job difficult’. For your own convenience, the article is linked below. This narrow-minded behavior suggests that some of us simply do not recognize our over-dependence on plastics as a national issue. I would argue that it is because the environmental effects of plastic use do not affect us in an immediate, visible manner.
We don’t see turtles getting stabbed by straws every other morning, on our doorstep. We do not see the piles of plastic and rubbish entering the oceans. Or rather, we choose not to see and scroll past news articles and videos of the aftereffects of plastic use each and everyone of us have contributed to.
Hazimah added on, “It is true that social media does not highlight or reflect the problem here (locally). There are a lot of regular beach clean-ups happening in Singapore to educate and create awareness but a lot more needs to be done.”
What struck me the most was when she concluded, “The attention (or awareness that is needed) is usually when there is a direct effect on the people. I think the citizens are not aware of the issue because they don’t see the ‘real thing’ and they don’t know what impacts they cause.”
This got me thinking; if we do not see the immediate effects of plastic use, then who will?
Microplastics refers to small plastic pieces less than five millimetres that can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life. So, the immediate answer would refer to all sea life- including the fish that we consume. Yes, there could be microplastics in your dinner and in your drinking water. On official record, WHO has published countless articles that conclude that the effects of microplastics in what we consume, is unknown.
It’s a grim reminder that only time will tell if microplastics truly affect our quality of health. It is perhaps, a possibility that only our children will be there to witness it.
In the end, it all boils down to what actions we take, on not just a national level but on a regional one. Speaking to Hazimah has brought into perspective for me that there are countless more social causes that I personally feel the need to be a part of. I’ve made it my personal goal to have more open conversations that may shed some light on environmental issues and their social impacts on our communities. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done.
I’ve also realized that majority of those spearheading these social causes are women. In this age of social media and free speech, there are more female leaders taking charge and unashamedly demanding change from their peers. It may be because women have a heightened sense of empathy. Or maybe it’s because we feel the need to make an impactful difference to the lives of our children, and their children; the younger generations who will become leaders of the next age. I’m looking forward to meeting more women who have similar strong beliefs, in their pursuit of radical change.
Reference Article: https://theindependent.sg/why-cant-dabao-like-everyone-else-hawker-allegedly-scolds-customer-for-bringing-own-container/