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Reviews / Debunking the falsehood about plastic recycling

The main point of the installation is to convince people to cut down on their plastics use, Claire Davenport said at the opening of the plastic exhibition on Thursday morning. Photo: Peter Johnson/Shetland News

AN EXHIBITION has opened at the Shetland Museum pier store intended to make people think about their use of plastics and debunk some of the myths about recycling.

Plastic: A Never-Ending Story exposes the fact that most “recycled” plastic is nothing of the sort and is part of an industrial hoax intended at preserving and stimulating the use of plastic as a valuable by-product of oil and an essential part of our consumption.

The public has been lulled into believing that because plastic can be recycled, the purchase of foods and liquids packaged in plastic is environmentally kosher. It is undeniably handy for the busy, stressed out shopper.

At first, artists Claire Davenport and Grioghair McCord had intended to create an installation based on an entire supermarket store, but they have scaled this back to a display of plastic bottles with explanatory notes on the recycling industry and some of the grim statistics that show how little of our handy containers end up being re-used.

The main point of the installation is to convince people to cut down on their plastics use, Davenport says.

On entry, the visitor can give a donation and receive a slip asking them to find their own way out.

The western world by and large sells its plastic waste to “developing” countries like Thailand and Malaysia where drinks bottles – which are the principle constituent of recycling – may or may not be cleaned and recycled.

If they are not, they are dumped along with the rest of the plastic waste. Only six per cent of drinks bottles are made from recycled plastic, the rest is virgin plastic, Davenport explains.

About 35 per cent of the lower grade plastics are recycled to make clothing or other cheap textiles. Once these items are worn out, they are landfilled or otherwise dumped.

Some plastic is recycled in cracking plants, but that is not going to stop the amount of virgin plastic being produced from increasing and the plastic problem from snowballing.

Davenport worked as a journalist and for the European Commission for many years and so has a “good ear” for spin and the way that governments are in harness with industry to weave the myth of environmental sustainability by “greenwashing”.

Instead, she says, people need to take the problem into their own hands and simply stop buying plastic.

She said: “We really believe the consumer is the answer. I think that in spite of all our experience to the contrary, we are far too keen to believe the administrations that rely on our vote.

“They have a track record of duping us to believe we are recycling when we are not recycling.”

Encouragingly, some of the mainstream media are grasping the nettle to reveal the truth behind recycling, such as the BBC’s War on Plastic documentary. One simple solution posed by this is that people stop buying bottled water when they can get as good for free out of the tap.

Locally, some outlets only stock bottled water instead of selling drinks in environmentally friendlier aluminum tins.

Everyone nowadays is living a busy, stressed out life and it is a case of deciding on priorities and finding a way to make the extra effort to live without plastic packaging.

Plastic: A never-ending story opened on Thursday morning and runs until Sunday in the Pier Store opposite the Shetland Museum and Archives. Opening times are Thursday to Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 12am-5pm.