Monday, 2 June 2014

A World Cup-sized waste of plastic

The bottle
On most working days, I like to step outside the office and take the air, sipping a peppermint tisane outside the delightful Albertini, which is just off Euston Road.

On Fridays, the Chalton Street market provides additional people-watching possibilities.

A stall that is set up almost directly next to where I tend to be sitting sells a variety of curtains and cushion covers and various similar items, but I’m always most amused by the handwritten notice in one crate, proclaiming that the contents are “‘Genuine’ plastic tablecloths”.

Does the use of single quote marks around the “genuine” mean that we should take the claim with a pinch of salt? Has someone invented a type of ‘fake’ plastic? Is it a costermonger’s joke based on the common conflation of ‘fake’ and ‘plastic’?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but it remains amusing.

Plastic tablecloths – red and white check, of course – have a place. Nothing else is acceptable or appropriate when consuming proper fish and chips in a proper northern chippy that knows how to do them properly.

White mugs of tea – complete with a chip on the side – are also obligatory, as are proper mushy peas, Sarsons vinegar and plates piled high with thick slices of factory bread.

There is a possibility that such a table adornment would be appropriate in a down-to-earth Italian restaurant too, on which could stand a bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rose instead …

There are, indeed, myriad uses for plastic that range from the plastic as tacky to the plastic as high-quality material.

It’s a versatile material without which it would be difficult to contemplate modern life as we know it.

But given that substantial amounts of plastics are derived from petrochemicals, which are not an infinite resource, and given that many plastics are not particularly good at biodegrading, one might be forgiven for thinking that it would be sensible to be ... well, sensible about how you use it.

Recycling is sensible too – and not just in terms of sticking things in a bag or crate for collection once a week, but also by using a plastic object more than once.

Yes – even that plastic cutlery that gets divvied out in sandwich shops can be washed and used for more than a single lunch.

Similarly, I doubt I’m the only person who has a bag full of plastic bags in the kitchen. Some are used over and over again, but all have at least a second use, while if I know I’m going shopping, I take a bag or bags with me.

But there are times when you look at something and find yourself musing on the utter stupidity of it – and the absolute waste of resources.

A particular example occurred the other day, when my shopping order included, as expected, a bottle of Listerine mouth wash.

This time, however, something was different.

The cup
It usually involves a plastic top on a plastic bottle – the former of which can be used as a cup. This is sealed in place by, err, plastic.

A spanking new ‘limited edition’ version still sees that – but with the addition of the extra plastic cup, that is then held in place by a further plastic seal.

And by way of explanation, the extra little plastic cup bears the legend “Official oral care sponsor – FIFA World Cup Brasil [sic]”.

Come on brand owner Johnson & Johnson – is this doubling up of a cup (and seals to hold the extra one in place over the usual one) really a responsible use of a resource?

But that little plastic cup actually tells another story that is, in it’s way, just as depressing or soul destroying.

Someone, somewhere, is paid to come up with promotional ideas such as this.

And someone, somewhere, is paid to design such things.

Is that really productive work?

Well presumably it is – in terms of creating profit for the companies in question, but that begs questions about what constitutes productive work and how we add value to society as a whole.

Now I understand the need to design and produce containers for, say, mouth wash. And I understand that design can both be about aesthetics and for rather more utilitarian reasons. And that design can, for instance, reduce the amount of plastic used and thereby save money and resources.

But this little ‘freebie’ has nothing to do with any of that.

To some free market fundamentalists, designing something like this would be more valuable – assuming it increases units sold – than someone who is a nurse in a public health system.

Yet it reflects something that it’s hard not conclude isn’t downright bonkers.

And that bonkersness extends to anyone who might buy a bottle of Listerine simply because it’s got a “limited edition” World Cup cup strapped to it.

For goodness sake – who in all hell is impressed by a company proclaiming that it’s the “official oral care sponsor” of a sports tournament?

Yes – I know how advertising works: I know that even major brands spend fortunes in order to maintain levels of brand awareness, for instance.

Gratuitous picture of Joe Hart
And I get that companies want to have their products associated with success – so you can see the logic of Proctor & Gamble paying Manchester City and England goalkeeper Joe Hart to advertise Head & Shoulders shampoo, just as past generations of men were, presumably, tempted to splash on a bit of Brut by enry Cooper.

Those, however, relied on the sportsman promoting an actual product – not offering a ridiculous and inelegantly-branded little plastic cup as an enticement to buy.

Is there really anyone out there who is dozy enough to start using a product or to change the one they use because of such a claim and because of an extra bit of entirely superfluous plastic?

Presumably there must be – but then there are plenty of people out there who have, over the years, fallen for buying one variety of fast food crap over another so that their children can walk away with a bit of plastic tat (which helpfully ties in with marketing a film) or a sugar-laden cereal so that their offspring can have some freebie.

Just buy the product you need/want – and then give 10p to a charitable concern you care about, for goodness sake!

But in Listerines single, small marketing scheme, you have an indicator of so much that is wrong in the world today.

And while there’s no guarantee, whats the betting that the US owners of Listerine, Johnson & Johnson, are far from being particularly interested in Association Football?

Bloody corporate plastic fans.

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