Paula Cocozza had an article published in the Guardian yesterday, which was titled “No plastic please, Mum: my quest to make waste-free packed lunches“. In it she reported on a week where she and her 8 year old son Gabriel set out to fill his lunchbox with packaging-free food. It’s an article that will – I am sure – resonate with plenty of people who are juggling time and money constraints with food preferences and a desire to be a bit more eco-friendly.
What’s keeping it in my mind is the comments people have left on it. And yes, I know, for peace of mind it is best not to read the comments section on websites these days. But Paula’s article has attracted nearly 500 comments to date, and to me they illustrate the problem with trying to do anything positive – you’re bombarded with detractors from all sides.
I will leave aside the comment that it’s disappointing that the article wasn’t written by a person of colour, and that the Guardian should be more diverse (it should, but that’s not a comment on the article) and the one that complains it’s sexist that the article was written by a woman (which is countered by one saying it would be sexist if it hadn’t been written by a woman, since women still mainly shoulder the housework/childcare burdens).
There are comments about the food choices Paula is making for her child, and complaints that she’s supporting the sugar industry.
People leave comments that say they have been doing this for years, and that it’s not “rocket science”. Some have added bits about how they make it work; lots haven’t.
There are people harking back to the “good old days” when there was no plastic packaging, and people managed just fine, thank you.
There are denialists saying there is no problem with plastic packaging, and the article is just making a fuss about nothing.
Some comments say that by attempting to solve one environmental problem (plastic waste), the author is simply creating another (e.g. raising her energy consumption by home baking). There’s a somewhat heated discussion about aluminium foil.
There’s one comment that we shouldn’t be focusing on making packed lunches more eco-friendly when so many children are going hungry.
There’s more than one suggestion that Paula should just force her child to eat the school lunches, despite his stated preference not to.
On the other hand, there are plenty of comments on people positively and helpfully sharing what they do, in the hope that it will be of use to other people. But you have to wade through the denialists and the disparagers to get there. ‘Peak Guardian’ is a comment that gets made on a lot of the paper’s lifestyle articles; if people don’t appreciate its editorial stance, why do they still read it? Because they enjoy being negative nellies, rubbishing other people’s attempts to make a difference, or because they have a vested interest in the status quo, or because they are sitting at home devoid of human contact and have nothing better to do.
Articles like this one won’t save the world on their own. But they are useful if they reach people who are trying to make a difference and need a boost, or some pointers, or people who have never given the status quo much thought and have suddenly woken up to the idea that there there is life beyond the companies pushing highly packed and processed products.
We don’t all have easy access to packaging-free shops and refilling stations, or even independent butchers and greengrocers and artisan bakeries. We don’t all have the time or the money to change every eco-damaging aspect of our lives. As at least one commenter helpfully pointed out, the only real way to prevent your life impacting the planet is to end it. It may be true, but it’s not exactly helpful, is it?
Going plastic-free may be having a fashionable moment in the spotlight, but it’s long overdue, and plastic waste is a problem we urgently need to tackle – for the sake of the planet’s health and our own. But I tend to find that once people open their eyes on one environmental issue, it becomes easier for them to see other problems to, and so one thing leads to another.
The point is that, wherever you are on the path, an eco-friendly life is a journey, and not a destination. We try things, and some of them work for us, and some of them don’t. We might buy things we think may make that journey easier, some of which will help and some of which won’t.
One of my favourite aspects of the article comes very near the end, when the family’s trial week is over:
“What? We can’t stop just because we’ve done a week,” Gabriel says. He says he has not missed the malt loaves and yoyos. He hopes other children may feel the same.