The Plastic-Free movement has gained significant momentum in recent years, as images detailing the ‘real cost’ of plastic consumption have increased in presence across social media. Photos of deceased wildlife, with stomachs full of plastic, and footage of rubbish caked islands in the South-Pacific Ocean have made their way into both our feeds, and our everyday lives.
Plastics’ path of destruction is for the first time revealing itself to a previously sheltered world. Such attention is sparking conversations so much so, that in 2018, the Oxford Dictionary named ‘single-use’ word of the Year.
This wave of attention has brought with it an opportunity to implement a global, meaningful transition from single-use plastic. However, the Plastic-Free movement’s ease of appearance into our feeds is part of a greater influx of content capturing our digital interest.
The movement competes for our attention amongst a myriad of other stimuli. The capacity for distraction away from the cause is high and so too is the risk of the movement to be pushed out of the limelight, and back into cognitive dissonance. The real question now is not how we publicize the issue of single-use plastic, but how do we prevent it from becoming just another social media fad?
Our emotions are roused like nothing before as we scroll through each post, laughing at cats in strange places one minute, and squirming at pimples being popped the next. Who knows how many km’s our thumbs have scrolled (although people have estimated), and how ‘humph’s’ have breathed while viewing a post funny enough to smile, but not enough so that we audibly chuckle.
The continuous injection of stimulus to our senses and subsequent release of endorphins encourages us to remain fixated in the digital space. Originally our lives were split between online and offline. Nowadays, we are now perpetually ‘online’.
Our constant online presence allows information to spread further and faster than previously possible. The information distribution shift is no new observation for the global population. We are capitalizing on it, and environmental and social activists are far from exempt.
Although much of the internet has matured beyond the ‘one like equals one prayer’ approach to contributing to environmental and social ‘action’, the propensity to share a post, or comment on a video is still regarded as a valuable contribution to the cause. There is of course merit in communicating the need for change, but in the case of single-use plastics, the catalyst for change requires tangible, real action.
Back in our feeds, posts depicting scenes of environmental destruction and social inequity are mixed up with those of Kardashian’s posing in their underwear, generating a melting pot of juxtaposed provocation, bidding for our attention and inhibiting our ability to remain focused. Constant distraction is further compounded by our tendency to feel overwhelmed by the size of the issue.
The ocean’s infestation of plastic is an ocean sized issue and knowing where to start causes great confusion. For many, the possibility of consciously refusing single-use plastic, adopting reusable materials, and ensuring their waste is diverted from landfill to its maximum extent, does not even register on their cognitive radar.
As a result, most people feel like the most they can manage is to share a post or two, in between attending to other important aspects of their lives.
The reality is, without a mass adoption of these simple actions, no amount of post sharing will resolve the single-use plastic issue. To prevent plastic-free from crashing onto the shores and dissolving back into the sea of digital content, tangible actions must be combined with digital activism and adopted as widely as the digital information spreads.
To ensure plastic-free persists through the noise, we must make the effort to be conscious of our consumption, adopt better habits, and refuse single-use plastic. We must allow the movement to capture not only our digital interest, but also appear in our everyday actions.