Campaigns Climate & Environment Debra Torrance Health Ungagged Writing

Plastic Pleurisy Part Poo 💩

The war on plastic is real, it’s escalating. Humans are devising new ways to tackle the ever growing problem that is plastic. We are recycling more, we have discovered plastic eating insects,
We’ve deployed barriers across rivers to catch plastic, we have sophisticated tractor dragged rakes to pick up the plastic on our beaches. However, we really should be cutting down on the production of plastic, and the only real way to impact that is to stop using it.
Hence the logic behind banning some plastic convenience items, such as straws that was featured in my last article on the subject, Plastic Pleurisy.
Now the newest great idea is to ban wet wipes. There has been a bit of an uproar from parents on the issue, there’s many articles that share parents concerns. But do I even need to mention the needs of the disabled? Yes, it seems I do.
Now, you’ve a wee baby and how gross to imagine carrying about a wet rag you’ve just used to clean up a really dirty nappy. Now imagine that baby is a grown adult. Are you still carrying about that cloth? No, no you are not, it’s probably binned. Adding to the every growing number tonnes of rubbish in our dumps.
Double incontinence is a concern for many disabled people who want to go out in public, wet wipes are a necessity. Not a convenience. Yes wet wipes shouldn’t be flushed, and they are causing huge fatbergs in sewer systems around the country.
What is a fatberg? It is a huge build up of mass in a sewer that is caused by things that aren’t meant to be flushed down the loo. There was a whole program about it, where they dissected one, if you want to physically balk when you watch tv then its not hard to find the link online. But here in Scotland we have adverts on tv telling us how our water systems work and regularly advertise what and what not to put down the loo. I think education is a better alternative than flat out bans.
The needs of disabled folk are quickly becoming afterthought in Tory tokenistic environmental policy, and it’s the afterthought that irks me so much. But that’s to be expected from a party who’s welfare reform can be called nothing else than a bureaucratic attack on the sick and disabled citizens of their own country. What’s surprising and depressing tho is the ableist responses from the general public;
Apart from the clearly ableist commentary, the backlash is growing against parents who know what disabled/changing room facilities are like. (Let’s be honest, they are usually one and the same.) There is no bidet and they almost always already smell of poo. There is the cries of “what did you do before wet wipes existed?” and that is true, I asked my 77 year old mum what she used to use, she told me a natural sponge, however there wasn’t many public changing facilities. And of course, babies were in natural terry towelling nappies. As for disabled folk, well my mother recalls seeing the first public disabled toilet in the 70’s, before then disabled folk were rarely seen out. Most likely ostracised from their communities and societies for reeking of pish.
Sometimes disabled folk are stuck in bed, and besides the uncomfortableness of a bed bath, it’s quite humiliating to have someone else clean your private parts. There’s a dignity some folk don’t even have the privilege of having. I’m not going to go down the line of telling you all about catheters, digital stimulation of bowels, adult diapers and other toilet stuff, I’m gonna guess you also go to the loo, you know sometimes you get a dodgy tummy, I’m sure I don’t need to go into the details of why a packet of wet wipes is an essential item in a bug out bag for any disabled person.
What I am gonna do however is talk about actual non essential plastics. Things that no-one needs whatsoever and is a waste of plastic.
No 1. Balloons, now my mum says I’m a party pooper for this one, but really what is a balloon for? Those plastic foil, usually filled with helium (which by the way is in short supply and essential for running MRI machines) and attached to a plastic string. We blow them up and give them for celebrations where they are put in a corner to slowly deflate and wilt away, only to be flung in the bin or they float away still filled with precious gases and end up in the ocean anyway.
No 2. Plastic wrap on things made of plastic. If plastic is so durable it can stay in our environment for centuries, and won’t break down naturally then how come we need to wrap up plastic garden chairs in plastic cling film? That seems a real waste of plastic.
No 3. Plastic coffee stirrers. Apart from the fact you can stir your coffee with practically anything else, why do we have little strips of plastic in the billions, available next to plastic pots of milk and sugar at many a coffee shop and canteen?
So there are three other plastic things, totally unessential to anybody. Total frivolous waste of plastic, plastic that will probably end up in our oceans. I want to tackle plastic pollution as much as any other tree hugging environmentalist. I want to save our planet, it’s the only one we have. Mother Nature is my deity and I don’t want to offend her, but I am so sick of bearing the brunt of powerful people’s decisions. Please think before you ban plastic products that of are real use in making disabled people’s lives easier. We don’t want a return to hiding in institutions, hospitalised indefinitely and made to feel ashamed to go out in public. I obviously don’t speak for all disabled folk, but I speak as a human who was once fully abled bodied. I never expected to suddenly soil myself in Ikea, I didn’t know some student nurse would give me a bed bath when I had my periods in hospital.
And that is the other thing, this ban of wet wipes is also classist. Imagine being homeless or having no access to hot water. How could you stay clean? What if it happened to you? We are all human beings, we all have to take responsibility, that is true. But can we just think of each other before we start banning stuff?

2 thoughts on “Plastic Pleurisy Part Poo 💩

  1. I’m with you Debra. When you’re looking at environmental action, you probably want to go for the low-hanging fruit first. This isn’t it, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the problem, as you so eloquently described, is really their contribution to ‘fatbergs’ which, well, is it actually an environmental problem at all? It could just as easily be considered an engineering problem, or a public education issue. Remember when the streets used to be full of dog shit? It’s not that long ago. We didn’t ban dogs, we taught people to pick up after their pooches. How hard can it be to teach them not to flush wet wipes down the toilet?

    Secondly, it’s not a plastics issue. Now some wonk will probably tell me there are petrochemical products in wet wipes, there may well be in some, but the fact is there don’t have to be. As with anything that is made out of fibre, from paper to clothing, the answer is hemp. And the container can be easily recycled. And in any case, plastics in landfill are not the problem. Plastics in the ocean are the problem, and it’s a serious one which requires urgent action. But plastics contain Carbon, and as you pointed out they’re not biodegradable, so putting them in landfill is effectively CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), the much sought-after holy grail of electricity generators.

    Thirdly there’s the issue of necessity. Or convenience, if you like, yes. I have to confess at this point that I had two kids and my initial good environmental intentions about nappies and wet wipes lasted days, couple of weeks maybe. Yes, people coped before these things were invented, but how did they do that? Well, life was just that bit shittier. Literally. We humans LIKE our conveniences. We spend a great deal of time, energy and money on them. We managed before electricity, and the internal combustion engine too, but would YOU, today? Most of us would not. Anyway, I looked into the nappy question. I found a reasonable attempt at an environmental cost comparison between disposable and cloth nappies. Turns out it’s nowhere near as clear cut as people think. You’d think cloth ones would be clearly better, because they’re re-used, but they’re not. The reasons are the vast environmental cost of growing cotton (see my above comment re: hemp), and the vast amounts of detergent we flush away washing them.

    But if we’re going to worry about plastics, and as I said we should, because of the oceans, there are lots of plastic things we could get rid of without causing anybody any inconvenience whatsoever! Obviously we should go after them (the low-hanging fruit) first. You mentioned a few of them in the article. I just want to throw in one more, because it really rather shocked me when I returned to Scotland in 2014 for the referendum. That was the first time in a while I’d been there long enough to have a flat, and have to shop for groceries. Plastic wrapping on fresh fruit and vegetables! Seriously, wtf is that about? It’s completely unnecessary. In Australia (where) I’d been before then) they don’t have it, at all. Nobody dies. And if you just want one apple, you can just buy one apple! That, I believe, is the true reason for it – it forces people to buy more than they actually need. So it’s not just wasting plastics, it’s wasting food! Ban it!

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