Saturday, 19 August 2017

A fourth "R"

A lot of headlines relating to the environment, and our seemingly limitless capacity to screw it up, have caught my eye lately. Headlines like these:

All of which made the following more surprising to me. Stunning even. See, I had cause to go to the Science Museum last week. One of their exhibits, towards the far end of the ground floor, had interactive touchscreens, asking visitors to answer questions on the science-related issues of the day. I answered a few (who am I kidding? I answered loads) but this one really struck me - "Do you recycle?" A simple enough question, right? Here's a breakdown of visitor responses for that day:

Only 7% recycle everything they can, and 85% - yes, eighty five percent - don't give a monkey's.

Am I the only person who finds this staggering? And depressing? This, from a sample of visitors to a science museum who, you'd hope, might have a predisposition for rational thought, given their choice of day out.

Obvious disclaimers required. First, this screenshot doesn't show the sample size, so it's hard to claim any kind of statistical significance. And second, for all my lecturing (sorry) I'm not perfect - I had a bottle of diet coke at lunchtime today, when I could have had tea in my inherently reusable mug. So that's another plastic bottle bought, used and disposed of. I am part of the wider problem, just like you. But at least I recycled the bottle.

So what's the fourth "R"? Well, the 3 Rs is a well-established environmental maxim - reduce, re-use, recycle. But now we all need to rethink too - rethink our relationship with plastic. Urgently.

P.S. The Science Museum dishes out plastic straws in all its food outlets...


  1. Ah, haven't been to the Science Museum in years - did you do the V & A and/or Natural History Museum while you were nearby too?
    I'm staggered and depressed too by those statistics, in fact I started wondering if it was just down to someone having a laugh by trying to manipulate the results. We've got the whole dedicated recycling wheelie-bin thing going on down here (not sure if all councils do?) and it does help, just knowing you've got somewhere to put the stuff as you go rather than trying to sort through. So much so that I don't even think about *not* recycling - it's become automatic. I think it has to become a mind-set. The fuss about shops not giving out free plastic bags seems to have died down and now it seems normal so there's a little bit of hope.
    That said, I use up an awful lot of paper in my job, so I don't feel so good about that, but at least I recycle all the pieces I mess up...

    1. Ah, didn't make it to the other museums this time, sadly.

      Did wonder if people had been voting for a laugh, but by my reckoning for categories to score 2% there must have been at least 50 votes, probably more for a category to get 7%.

      What worries me is that this might be another echo chamber thing - I recycle everything I can, and so does everyone I know, so I assume that extrapolates to the whole population. But of course it doesn't, it only extrapolates to people like me.

      And even if everyone was like me (heaven forbid, right?) we'd still need that rethink, I reckon.