Mon | Sep 16, 2019

Michael Abrahams | Walk wid yu fork

Published:Monday | August 26, 2019 | 12:14 AM

Plastic pollution remains a global problem. Trillions of pieces of plastic litter our oceans, estimated to contribute to 60 to 90 per cent of all marine debris. Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution enter these bodies of water. And the crisis shows little sign of abating. In 2016, a global population of over 7 billion people produced 320 million tons of plastic, and this is projected to double by 2034.

Plastic is everywhere. Microplastics have been found in locations as remote as in Arctic ice. More ominously, studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100 per cent of marine turtles, 59 per cent of whales, 36 per cent of seals and 40 per cent of seabird species examined. It is estimated that 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually.

With the recent introduction of plastic bag and straw bans, Jamaicans are being sensitized to the issue of plastic pollution. More and more bins and drop-off locations are being provided for plastic bottles, in order to facilitate their collection for re-cycling.

Unfortunately, not all types of plastic are recyclable. Most plastic bottles are, but plastic cutlery (knives, forks and spoons) usually are not. Also, most plastic utensils are made of polystyrene, which can release toxic chemicals when heated.This presents a formidable problem. The Ocean Conservancy lists cutlery as among the items “most deadly” to sea turtles, birds, and mammals. Since recycling is not an option for cutlery which, like other plastic products may take centuries to disintegrate, the best way to deal with these items is to reduce their use and re-use what can be re-used.

Regarding reduction of use, consider this. When we order fast food to take home or to the office, and we are given plastic forks, knives and spoons, we often do not need them. There is always going to be cutlery at home, and usually at the office. Knowing what we now know about plastic pollution and its deleterious effects, it makes little sense to take the plastic fork, eat with it and then discard it while sitting in a kitchen or lunchroom with re-usable utensils.

And even if you intend to dine at a fastfood establishment, what is wrong with carrying your own cutlery? The concept is not new. In medieval Europe, people used to carry their own personal knives for eating occasions, and a sixth century text suggested that monks living at that time did the same. The reasons for carrying your own cutlery may have been different then, but doing so definitely benefits the environment.

In 2013, the chair of a forestry group in China, Bo Guangxin, urged diners to "carry their own tableware". It has been estimated that China throws away somewhere between 57 and 80 billion pairs of chopsticks every year. But recently, in China and Japan, a "bring-your-own-chopsticks" (BYOC) movement has been developing, and manufacturers have been quick to capitalize on the trend, marketing attractive bags and boxes for carrying reusable chopsticks. In concert with this, Greenpeace China has persuaded hundreds of Beijing restaurants not to provide disposable cutlery unless customers request it.

In the Western Hemisphere, "bring-your-own-cutlery" (BYOC) movements are also emerging. In addition, several companies are creating utensils from plant-based materials, including wood, with some of them sourcing materials from fast-growing trees like birch or bamboo. The Canadian brand Aspenware, on the other hand, uses excess wood from the lumber industry to manufacture its utensils.

All of us can contribute to protect our planet from plastic pollution. So, if you use disposable cutlery, ensure that it is made of biodegradable or compostable material. If you buy fast food to carry home or to the office, where eating utensils are already available, decline plastic cutlery if it is offered to you.

But probably one of the most helpful things you can do to help protect our beautiful planet from plastic pollution is to carry your own cutlery. In other words, “Walk wid yu fork”.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.