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Plastic Waste and The Tragedy Of The Commons

plastic waste


When I studied Economics at Uni I found myself largely turned off by much of the theorising that took place, it seemed so far removed from what was actually going on in day to day life. However, there were a few principles which struck me as being absolutely bang on. One of them, was ‘the tragedy of the commons’, which helps to explain a lot of the destruction that goes on in our world, and which I’ve been reminded of as I embark on a plastic free month.

The concept pertains to any situation whereby there is a shared resource, such as common land, a river, a forest, the sea, the earth’s atmosphere etc, and the users of the resource behave like self-interested actors, steadily depleting it as time goes on, instead of pulling together to protect and optimise the resource.

Each individual is wrapped up in their own life story, attempting to get by, and extract as much joy and comfort from life as possible. If there is a resource which they consider benefits them in some way, and they have lots of access to that resource, then they will keep on extracting well above the sustainable limit. Now if the other users of the resource don’t maximise their usage, then it’s ok. But the problem often arises that many of the actors involved in the use of the resource also seek to maximise their own personal benefit and the aggregate effect is an unsustainable depletion of the resource so that there is less and less left for people to gain utility from.

Now very evidently, there are many corporates who engage in an unsustainable depletion of resources, and its having such a destructive impact – its like the tragedy of the commons on steroids.

However, before we get on our high horses about the corporate impact, shouldn’t we perhaps look closer to home and examine our own behaviours? Because are we not all responsible for using up an unsustainable amount of energy to power of our homes, our gadgets, and the construction of our consumer products? How many of us chuck on the air conditioning when we go to a hot country? And who amongst us is eating more than a sustainable level of fish from our seas? And how many of us use plastics? On this latter point it would seem it is all of us. And this is a huge problem, because 12.7 million tonnes of plastic are being dumped in our seas every year and it is being swallowed by every part of the aquatic food chain.

I was always vaguely aware that I was using a lot of plastic, but its only since I’ve tried going plastic free that I’ve realised JUST how much I am using, its actually really scary. Its not just plastic bags from the supermarket, which can be easily substituted, it’s the packaging on almost all of our fruits and vegetables from the supermarkets. In fact, it appears that 90% of all goods from the supermarket involve plastic packaging, its hard to escape it! And if you wish to buy food on the run, often times that’s in plastic packaging too. Humans have been living on the earth for at least 2.5 million years, and plastics only really came on the scene in the 50s. Since that time, we have produced 6.5 billion tonnes of plastics, and in the next 32 years, we are set to double that number (each year we use an average 8.4% more plastics than the year before). Unless of course, we the people say enough. We’ve lived without plastics before, we can do so again.

Governments have proven inept at protecting our common resources, precisely because they’re interested in winning votes, and we the electorate have demonstrated so much apathy towards our common resources that it has provided little in the way of motive political force. Corporates continue to be mainly driven by profit motives, so the only way that they are going to change their profit driven use of cheap plastics is if we the people show them that we favour more organic produce, that can be more easily broken down, and which won’t fill our land and our seas with hardcore pollutants.

You see, as Herschel once said, the opposite of good is not evil, its indifference. And for as long as we all remain indifferent to the hundreds of millions of tonnes of plastic being produced each year, we will be a party to a tragedy of our common lands and our seas, and leave our children a plastic soup of an ocean and an environment whereby the landfill plastics leech into our soils, harming the soil fertility, and into our water supply, adding to the health burden we are already facing from all sorts of commons tragedies like the air we breathe and the denuded and de-nutrified food we eat from industrial agriculture sources.

In recent years, tests have been carried out on our water supplies, and it was found that billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted. Now would any of us choose to consume plastic of our own volition? I highly doubt it. It seems like an inherently poor idea, and yet, hidden within so much of our water now are plastic particles that will slowly clog up our cells and tissues, mirroring the fish in our seas, which are slowly choking on the by-product of our rampant consumption patterns.

So let us all take individual action, and see if that aggregates. Its when people start demanding gluten free, or dairy free, or vegetarian options, or carbon neutral products that the early adopters and then later the corporates listen, and the government are more likely to take action if they can see a real and meaningful movement by the populace. Politicians are populists by nature, and if they think they can gain an advantage by announcing a popular policy first, they will. So let’s give them the cue.

I will admit that from my research thus far that it’s almost impossible to live a regular life without using plastics. But I bet we can all reduce our plastics consumption by 50%. That is a game changing shift, and the more we show a preference for plastic free goods, the more the corporates will provide more options, and then 3 years from now, we can reduce by another 50%, adding further weight to the movement. The momentum would be extraordinary and we could keep iteratively using less and less until eventually, we can all be using perhaps only 5% of our present consumption. Maybe even one day we can get back to where we at 60 years ago, with minimal plastics production, and we can turn the tragedy of our commons into a triumph.

It starts with us.


Will’s tips for reduced plastic consumption

*Put a £1 coin in the charity box of your supermarket every time you use a plastic bag, that will soon help you remember to take a bag!

*Order fruits and vegetables via a veg box scheme such as Abel and Cole and insist on no plastic. Shop at farmers markets (both initiatives are healthier and better for the environment)

*Buy your toiletries from places like lush, using natural products without the packaging.

*Install a water filter such as Berkey to drink purer water without using plastics – and purchase a reusable bottle to take water with you each day.

*Take a reusable coffee cup with you.

*Avoid using straws to drink liquids with.

*Use a food flask for carrying food, instead of buying food on the run – its far healthier if you cook it at home and take with you, and the beauty is you only have to half cook it while getting ready in the morning because the food continues to cook in its own heat once inside the flask.

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Is Meditation the Secret to a Happy Relationship?

meditation for a happy relationship


To the general delight of chocolate manufacturers and restaurateurs everywhere, it’s Valentine’s Day! There’s so much love in the air that the police have to be sent out to shepherd all the pining lovers wandering the moors back to the safety of their own homes, and you can’t move for people serenading their paramours under moonlit balconies (violating many public nuisance laws).


But while it’s easy to be cynical about Valentine’s Day – yes, we all know it’s actually a commercial enterprise designed to get people to buy so many roses and tiny teddy bears that the sheer weight of merchandise tilts the earth off its axis, and sends us all spinning helplessly into space – really, it’s quite a nice thing, isn’t it?


Celebrating this most cherished human emotion gives us the chance to tell our loved ones that we appreciate them; and in a world where we increasingly encouraged to look inwards, and think mainly of ourselves, this is a rather lovely act. And when we consider long-term relationships – the ones that have lasted 5, 15 or even 30 years – these little moments of gratitude can make all the difference.


Long-lasting Love


The cultural commentary around long-term relationships and commitments like marriage can be pretty downbeat. A few hours watching soaps and you’d be forgiven for thinking at least one half of every partnership is having an affair and/or a secret murderer, and there’s always someone happily reminding you how many marriages end in divorce.


Yet we humans do keep pairing off, sometimes having kids, and spending years together – so it can’t be all doom and gloom. Love is very much the thing that binds our species, and the love we find in our long-term romantic partnerships is often particularly profound. That first flush of romance and lust makes our partner’s sheer presence a joy, and as life together progresses, this can evolve into something extremely meaningful.


However, before we get too soppy, (we blame the general Valentine’s Day atmosphere – our brains have become clogged with heart-shaped chocolates) this isn’t to say everything is forever perfect once you’ve found the right person. Much like the other relationships in life  – from the one with our mothers to that bloke down the road who wants us to join the neighbourhood watch – there will be issues at some time or another.


While they are undeniably times where these issues can seem insurmountable, and you have to make the sad decision to go your separate ways, many problems can be solved when both parties are willing to change. And one such change that can keep a relationship ticking along happily (and maybe even a little bit sexily) is meditation.


Meditation for a Happy Relationship


Meditation does so many things to improve a relationship that taking it up is less a chore and more a revolution – like the invention of the wheel, or chocolate waffles. The negative things that can affect a relationship over the long-term often have their roots in stress – something which meditation gets straight to the heart of. It also keeps our libido healthy, which doesn’t hurt. To explain further, here are some of the common issues that can take the shine off a once loved-up relationship:


  • Taking our partners for granted (or vise versa)


One of the stumbling blocks so many of us encounter in our long-term relationships is that we forget to appreciate our partner as the full and separate human being they are, and instead begin to view them solely as an either an irritating or convenient appendage to our own lives. We stop thinking about our partners in the way we did when we first met them, and start seeing them purely in relation to ourselves – what they can do for us, or how they’ve annoyed us.


It’s when we no longer truly see or hear our partner (or they don’t see or hear us) that the mutual respect so vital to a healthy partnership can become eroded, and often leads to an awful lot of…


  • Unresolved resentment


This can arise from so many situations, even fairly benign ones. Say you’ve got a great promotion that requires you to move cities. Your partner isn’t so keen and is invested in their own career, but is swayed by your enthusiasm and desire to move, and opts to compromise. But as you move forward in a dynamic career, make loads of friends and are often out enjoying yourself, they haven’t found a new job they like and are finding it extremely difficult to settle in.


It’s just one scenario, but one that can build to a point of resentment that either destroys the relationship or results in it limping along, with one very unhappy partner and a toxic atmosphere. This is especially dangerous if one of you is more used to getting your own way, and unconsciously steamrolls a more accommodating partner into a life they feel they have no real say in. And this can be hugely exacerbated by…


  • Lack of communication and emotional neglect


When we come home from work and are stressed, tired and irritable, and our partner has left the laundry yet again for us to do, we are unlikely to look at them with the same starry eyes that the relationship began with. In fact, we’re probably going to be pissy with them, while they hopelessly try to work out what they’ve done wrong. These sorts of situations can play out within the relationship in all kinds of ways, with a constantly switching dynamic – and stress makes them a whole lot worse.


If we’re stressed, have started to forget the full separate humanity of our partner, and are harbouring resentment towards them, communication can very quickly break down. We can blame them for annoyances that they are completely unaware of, taking their unconscious or thoughtless poor behaviour as a direct attack, or a reflection of their bad character. It’s when we start believing that they are simply just selfish, or lazy, or irresponsible, rather than seeing these traits as part of a varied and full person with plenty of good qualities, that profound problems can arise.


This may sound a bit depressing, but all it takes is a little diligence and commitment to working things out as the relationship evolves to ensure that small problems (because 9 times out of 10, they are small) grow beyond all sense. And this is where meditation comes in!


Why Meditation will Strengthen your Bond

Meditation has been proven to:


  • Increase your empathy and kindness
  • Lower stress
  • Improve your sex drive
  • Increases our happiness.


All of which is pretty helpful in the context of long-term love. No relationship (romantic or not) can thrive without kindness and empathy, because we humans are a fairly complicated bunch who have to rely on each other to be nice – even if we’re being really irritating that day. Meditation makes us see the bigger picture, and become stressed far less easily. Instead of snapping at our partner when they decide to tell us everything that’s wrong with our driving when we’re giving them a lift to work, we feel able to let it go.


This avoids hurt feelings, and something silly escalating into a full-blown argument, or two days of the dreaded silent treatment. As our stress levels lower we become far less combative, and more able to see actions for what they are rather than a veiled attack. It also makes us better able to talk through anything that is a genuine issue in our relationship. We don’t instantly feel on the defensive, or feel the need to prove that we actually haven’t done anything wrong (even if our partner thinks very differently) and “win” the argument.


Rather than being apathetic, irritable and neglectful because our brains are wheeling and panicking over everyday life, we are able to become more present within our relationships, and less clouded by negativity. Our energy is no longer expended on stressing out, so doing nice things for one another doesn’t feel like a chore or inconvenience – it simply comes naturally.


Meditation can also become one of your “couple rituals” – the things you do together that strengthen your bond, like setting aside time to have coffee and catch-up each morning. By meditating together, we spend that bit more quality time in each other’s company, and demonstrate our commitment to becoming our best selves for our partners.


All in all, it’s a pretty great and easy way to bring all the brilliant things about ourselves – our love, desire to support each other, the happiness we derive from each others company – and bring it to the fore.


If you think you and your partner would like to learn more about meditation, come along to one of our free intro talks in London. We’d love to see you there!

This entry was posted in blog.