Part 2 of the Big Allotment Rant concerns the modern scourge of every allotment site.
Millions of years from now, when future species discover our fossilised remains, they will probably find us buried beneath a thick layer of plastic. Or maybe there will be no future species, as plastic is fast becoming a serious threat to all life.
In just 100 years, this miraculous material has permeated every aspect of hunan civiisation, and assumed every form and function imaginable. We wear it, we drink from it, we wrap our food in it. Some of us cover our plots with it, as sheeting, nets, old carpets, frames, and even the odd tyre.
It is everywhere. It’s cheap and thoroughly disposable. And that is where the problems start. As everybody knows, plastic is not bio-degradable. Instead it is broken down by the elements into ever smaller particles of plastic. Not to mention the toxic constituent chemicals such as phthalates, DEHP, and Bisphenol-A that are deposited into the water and soil – and into our bodies.
Numerous studies have found that BPA can adversely affect fetal development, disrupt the endocrine system, alter DNA and brain function, cause hyperactivity and arrhythmia, and reduce sperm count. BPA has been found to leach into bottled water at warm temperatures, and into food especially during microwave cooking. With the growing awareness of the dangers of BPA, the packaging companies are now heavily promoting “BPA-free” produts, but these still contain other harmful plasticizers.
These dangers seem to have been largely overlooked, however, as the sheer convenience of plastic has seduced us into unthinking acceptance. Yet every single bag and bottle we have discarded is still very much with us. Every inch of nylon twine, every seed packet thrown away remains in the environment. You will find this debris in the manure that is delivered to site, and increasingly you will find fragments of it in your soil. A tiny piece from next-door’s mulch sheet that has been ripped to shreds by the wind here, a fragment of net there. Pretty soon it starts to add up.
The oceans are already full of it. At least 100 million tonnes of plastic has ended up in the world’s oceans. Millions of tonnes of which are regularly regurgitated onto previously pristine beaches. Plastic debris is the single greatest threat to marine mammals today. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a giant toxic soup, often containing 60 times more plastic than plankton. A recent study carried out by scientists at Plymouth University found that One-third of fish caught off the south-west coast of England have traces of plastic contamination. World plastic consumption is estimated to hit 300 million tonnes this year. Most of it will be immediately discarded.
You might experience a wrap rage incident with an impenetrable (and implausibly outsized) polycarbonate casing that resists all efforts to prise it open, short of frenzied violence. You might often wonder why every vegetable under the sun needs layer upon layer of plastic trays and wrappers, when they already come with their own natural wrappers.
This excessive and largely unnecessary plastic packaging is one of the most damning legacies of our age. We are the reason for such colossal and unthinking waste. We demand protective packaging for everything. We can admire the beauty of an unspoilt natural spot one minute, then casually dump our plastic rubbish on it as we leave. Or we may not think anything of covering our plot with an old carpet. Quite why anyone would place old tyres on their plot is a mystery, however, but it still happens. The plastic problem is now so bad that more and more allotment associations are explicitly banning certain materials from site altogether.
Documentaries such as Addicted to Plastic reveal the scale of the problem to be so utterly overwhelming that it is difficult to know where to start dealing with it. We all have a responsibility to ensure that our site contains as little of this material as possible, so as to prevent disintegration and dispersal. If you need to mulch, why not just use straw. As Masanobu Fukuoka put it in his seminal work The One Straw Revolution;
Among the young people who come to these mountain huts, there are those, poor in body and spirit, who have given up all hope. I am only an old farmer who grieves that he cannot even provide them with a pair of sandals – but there is still one-thing I can give them. One straw.
I picked up some straw from in front of the hut and said, “From just this one straw a revolution could begin.”
“With the destruction of mankind at hand, you can still hope to cling to a straw?” one youth asked, with a touch of bitterness in his voice.
This straw appears small and light, and most people do not know how really weighty it is. If people knew the true value of this straw a human revolution could occur which would become powerful enough to move the country and the world.
Unlike plastics, at least straw rots down quickly and enriches the soil. It is also a far superior mulch, and probably far cheaper per square metre.
Which would you rather see blown onto your plot?