Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 43 - Madie Steer - RACE AGAINST PLASTIC - Part 3 of 3

So, it's like even there, you haven't got completely away from ?? 00:05> source.
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 43 - Madie Steer - RACE AGAINST PLASTIC - Part 3 of 3

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JESSE: So, it's like even there, you haven't got completely away from ?? 00:05> source. MADIE: Is the plastic cap recyclable and widely recyclable? JESSE: I don't know. Often the caps that are on products here are not labeled for the kind of recycling that we have at curbside pickup. And then that's another-- It's a good point, but also something I've thought about too is that I feel like I've seen reports where it just says 90% of the plastic that's supposed to be being recycled, at least in this country is just being thrown away. It's not actually being recycled. So, it's like we sort our recyclables. We've got tons of boxes out because I get all kinds of shipping boxes in. It's like, I'm not worried about the paper products. But even though we sort the plastic and send it out with our recycling, I'm not sure that it's actually getting recycled. MADIE: No, no. And we have exactly the same thing here and it's really frustrating. But yeah, so we, the kind of push, so my supervisor, Richards kind of moved now he's sort of-- he's head of our Marine Institute here so he doesn't do so much research but he does a lot of out-- well, not outreach even he deals a lot with government and with a lot of European Commission staff. So, he's quite influential and he really strongly believes and say to the rest of us that the problem with plastic isn't-- it's an amazing product. It's amazing, and it's revolutionized how we live as humans, we can't do without it. But whenever plastic is made, the manufacturer should be responsible for its end of use ?? 01:48> be no end of use. So, rather than you know, single use packaging, single use plastic should not be a thing. There should be no such thing as single use plastic. But the problem is that when products, so for instance, a sandwich in a supermarket, so you know lunchtime sandwich, the main product. The main description for when somebody is designing the packaging is that it needs to be attractive, and it needs to keep the food fresh for as long as possible. There is absolutely no brief for what the packaging does, or where it goes after the person's eaten the sandwich. And that priority needs to go at the top for a while so that no packaging should be made without thought of where it's gonna go at the end, which would be great, but then also from the other direction, the government and councils need to pump more money into waste management so that we are clear across all counties or your districts that recycling, the capabilities of recycling it's the same. Because yeah, I mean, have no idea how much of my recycling actually gets recycled. And if I'm not sure if it can be recycled, I throw it in any way. But that's not a particularly good thing to do because it kinds of ?? 03:21> the whole recycling system-- is flawed. But you think like, I don't want to put it in the bin. I genuinely don't want to put it in the bin. And also like, I'm like, it shouldn't go in, I shouldn't have to put it in the bin. Like, come on. So, yeah, it's tough. And we just, the manufacturers of plastic have just had no responsibility until we hope now really. You know, there needs to be an approach from both directions. So it's all well and good saying to consumers like we need to be responsible for what we're buying. And yeah, obviously. But if you can't afford the non-plastic alternatives, then you can't help it. You really can't help but buy the cheaper products in plastic. And that shouldn't be that person's fault. They shouldn't have to feel guilty for buying plastic ?? 04:19> recycled. So, yeah, just putting them a higher value on plastic, it's not disposable. It's not a throwaway resource anymore. But in countries like the UK and the US, that's fine. But one of my research colleagues has just recently come back from India. Yeah, big, big issue in India. Like, I don't know-- I have no idea how they're going to tackle it. I mean, I recently went to Japan for work as well and everything's triple wrapped in Japan in plastic, and they're really clean society and there's no litter. But everything is triple wrapped. So, trying to change sort of cultural, it’s almost sort of a cultural thing. You know, it's cleanliness, or you know, in India they just don't have waste management. They still, their litter-- Well, the river is, they're like well, would you get rid of our rubbish, we put it in the river. It gets taken away. JESSE: It's not here anymore, it’s not my problem. MADIE: Yeah, so they just don't understand. And they need bottled water otherwise they'll get ill. So, yeah. And you know, the fishing industry as well. We find a lot of our beach litter is from the fishing industry here. And how you tackle that again, like until this an alternative that is even possible or affordable or and affordable, I don't really know how we can persuade a fisherman to spend more money on a different style of net or-- I mean, we do get a lot of the beach litter is bits of net that have been cut off when ?? 06:21> fixing that and they do throw that overboard. So, that is something they could stop. So, yeah, it's a change of behavior as well. I mean, actually, we've got a very strong environmental psychology department at Plymouth University, which looks closely into changing behavior and perceptions of litter. JESSE: Yeah, I was like, there's so many facets of it that it's like that's the thing it's tougher, I think for one person to try to wrap their head around. Especially me because I'm just not involved in it nearly as much as you are. I come at it from kind of the business side. And to me, it's one of those things where if you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Right? So, I'm like, I think about it from like, the economy side where it's like because I go to the grocery store, everything's in plastic. I go to like a general store, I want to go buy soap, whatever it is for shampoo or detergent, or dishwashing liquid or what, it's all in plastic. It's so pervasive. I'm like, what's the most elegant solution whether it's possible? And I don't know. But it seems like the most elegant solution is like a biodegradable form of plastic. And I don't know if that's possible. And the reason I say that, I'm happy to have your opinion on this, is that because I think of the alternative. Say we could, and this isn't derogatory towards you. I'm just trying to imagine. Say we could eliminate plastics entirely and use everything renewable like in the case with the local dairy that sells things in the class bottles. Say we could do everything in glass or paper. Like down the road from me, there's a new shop opening up. It's like a soap refill place where if you have a bottle, you can bring it in, fill it, you use it at your home and you go back to the shop and fill it again. So, you're not buying a new bottle. Like that model is trying to come out. But it's gonna take, like such enormous monetary resources to set up a completely different economic system. That's why I'm like if we just could figure out how to make a biodegradable plastic or plastic equivalent, doesn't have to be plastic, that would be the most elegant solution to me. But I'd love to have your opinion on that. MADIE: Well, yeah, I agree. And I’ll say some of the alternatives still have their own problems. For instance, if you switch over from synthetic clothing to cotton, the cotton industry has its issues as well. And ?? 09:03> for vegans. So, yes, it's an absolute minefield. Biodegradable plastics is a really hot topic. So, there's an issue in the UK with the labeling of plastics, a really big issue. They say they're compostable, and they actually mean industrially compostable. So, they're not really compostable in like the general public's view. JESSE: Right. You can’t stick them out in the backyard and have them biodegrade and-- MADIE: Not everybody has an industrial composter in their backyard, they have a composter. So, yeah, we've got to be really careful. And also there's quite a lot of research looking into effects of biodegradable plastic because all it kind of really means is it will degrade faster. So, it will go from macro to micro faster and ?? 09:58> faster, but we still don't know, actually, you know how long it stays around in the micro and the nano form. It will still be long enough to cause harm. You know, because if it's just a year, it will cause harm if it's in the wrong place. But also there's additives, it's not just the plastic, it's all the additives and the coatings. So, biodegradable glitter has got coatings on it. And it's the same coatings, ?? 10:27> litter. So, there's research at the moment going into the levels of harm with all the different sorts of levels of biodegradability of plastics. So, it's been picked off on as a really good and quick, easy fix, but the research is now sort of trying to catch up with industry, and like rein everyone back in a little bit, potentially. Because you know, unfortunately, it may not be the answer, not for the long term. It's better but yeah, we've got to be very careful. I mean, with regards to what you can do in a house, and as long as-- You know, if you can really figure out what is recyclable in your area, then don't be afraid of using clear all white plastic. Anything that's not got a really strong pigment in and is pure, like PET, polyethylene or acrylic can be recycled fairly easily. But anything with a strong pigment in the recycling it's got no value in it because it's just not something that they can add into other plastics when they melt it all down for recycling. But I mean, you know, I just try and limit-- I'm just going back to simplifying things really, just use soap. And I use shampoo in a bottle but I make sure the bottle’s recyclable. And I don't wash my hair that often, well, I do, but you know, it just-- Yeah, you just got to do every little bit that you can but it's the classic thing where if you say you're just it's such a big problem. I don't know what I can do. My little thing with using soap instead of shower gel, what good is that? But obviously if a million people say that, then that's a million bottles. And there's a significant amount of plastic but that’s just gonna lie around in landfill, potentially. So, I think everyone's sort of just got to do their little bit. You've got to decide I'm happier to pay a little bit more money for a product that's not in plastic, but then that's me. I am only on a student salary but I prioritize better quality without plastic than-- and less of it then in buying loads of stuff in plastic. I try not to buy food on the run. I try and make sure you know, I've got my metal ?? 13:26> with me all the time. And I take lunches with me. You know, I try not to rely on buying a lunch because I know it will come in single use plastic. And so it's just a change of behavior. Like you take your shop-- I didn't know any in the US about shopping bags, but I take shopping bags with me wherever I go and it becomes natural for me. But we've just got to start doing these things like you wouldn't go out of the house without a raincoat, so don’t go out of the house without your bag and your water bottle as long as it's easy for you to fill up the water bottle. In the UK now, you can ask just about anywhere they’ll fill up your water bottle. But five years ago, they would just say ?? 14:11> are you buying something? But it's not like that now. I mean, we've had the Attenborough effect, we call it over here. So, David Attenborough is our BBC nature guy. So, when he did Blue Planet two, a couple of years ago, there was a huge shift in public perception of plastics after that. It really like massively changed the conversations I had with people. It was really good. Everyone suddenly became really worried about it. So, that's really helped with trying to create these smaller solutions on a day to day basis. The shops in Plymouth are much more aware of providing an alternative to plastic cutlery or single use plastic straws, and things like that. So, it's gonna get there, it will get there. But we just need some backup from industry really at this point. We're really at a time where, I think we're not far from one of the really, really big companies maybe not sort of Coca Cola but you know, in the UK, I'm really hoping that one of the big brands will just go plastic free when they can and then it will just be a roller coaster from there, a ?? 15:42> effect. JESSE: Yeah, I know, you mentioned the bags in the store and I know that there's starting to be like small incentives like we went to Hawaii on vacation last year and they have like a new law that charges for bags. If you get plastic bags, it charges for them. So, if you bring your own bags, you don't get charged. Or here I'm the madman that walks around the store without a cart, or like a shopping basket or anything and I'm carrying everything to the checkout, and then they try to put it in the bags, I say, don't do that. And then I walk out with everything like as a bundle in my arms because I forget the bags but I’m like don't give me the plastic bags. And we do still end up with them from time to time but just like it used to be several years ago, I do that and ever really looked like I'm crazy. And then more and more it's been like, okay, I get it. Like you're not the only weirdo that does this like this is happening more often. So, I have a little bit of hope that slowly maybe people are adopting these kind of habits. MADIE: ?? 16:55> in the UK we think of the US being still using like paper bag. JESSE: No, it's almost, it's absurd. Depending on the store like Walmart is a good example, if you're not going to self-checkout, which there's no cashier, you just ring your own items up and bag them however you want. But it would be that you could go, or the grocery store is especially ?? 17:20> any grocery store, you go, you'll have, say you have a dozen items. Somehow, they'll give you six bags, like those would all fit in one bag. Why are you giving me six bags? It's like they want to give you as many bags as they possibly can. It's like what, like who trained you to do this because this is the-- There's something about, I think part of it is like trying to separate things like produce goes in one bag and meat goes in one bag and then like chips goes in another bag. And it's like, there are a lot of these things you can put in one bag together and it's perfectly fine. MADIE: So, that's the behavior thing, we've just been accustomed to convenience and hygiene as well as part of it. And we just need to backtrack a little bit and prioritize the environment over stuff that we don't really need in everyday life. But people don't prioritize the environment at all. A lot of the time money is the primary driver for what people are purchasing. So, yeah, the psychology of it is really interesting. JESSE: Yeah, I mean, if I've learned anything, from being an entrepreneur, it's that as a consumer, and I don't know, this, obviously, is a broad stroke, but as a consumer, people just seem to care about how it affects me. And if there's not this like immediate effect, basically immediate, then I don't care. So, if we're thinking about, like this grand impact on the environment it's like, it's nice like I talked about there are companies that are like B corporations that basically benefit nonprofits or some kind of cause outside of the business itself. So, some of those could be for like funding research on the environment. But people are at least my understanding of people's consumer behaviors is they're not going to buy a product just because it benefits the environment. They'll buy it if it solves their problem, and they like it. And if it also helps the environment, that's just a side benefit. MADIE: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Is my camera freezing? JESSE: A little bit, but that's okay. MADIE: Yeah, yeah. JESSE: We're way over time but I'm sure we could keep going. MADIE: I think it's just that it can't connect to my chosen camera. So, I think it's just not enough. JESSE: That's okay. That's okay. Well, so, we'll kind of wrap up here. So, I'm asking everybody, this year the same question. And the question I'm asking everybody this year is, what do you think the purpose of sport is? MADIE: Well, I feel like it's for my mental health, I feel like I've relied on sport sort of subconsciously, without realizing. But the older I get, and if I have spells where I don't do it, I certainly feel like I lose my little venting stream. So, it's kind of like my happy bug. So, for me, yeah, my purpose for sport is to fill a mental and physical purpose. JESSE: It’s a good answer. I haven't got that one yet. So, I'm interested to see what everybody says this year since it's such a broad question, and I think sport affects us all a little bit differently. So, I love to hear what other people think and how it kind of participates in their lives. Madie, thanks for spending some time with me. If people want to find you or see your research, keep up with microplastics and what you guys are doing, where can people find you? MADIE: Well, my science stuff is on Twitter. Although I'm not like hugely great at making sure I keep things up today, which is MadieSteer. So, which is I guess you might have my name written down because it's-- JESSE: Yeah, I do. MADIE: ...Madie, it's not really a proper Maddie, it’s Madie apparently according to my English teacher ??22:02>. But I'm on Instagram as well. And if they want to look at gig rowing just Google it and there's a lot of YouTube videos of gig rowing in the UK. And science wise as well if you Google Plymouth University and Madeline Steer, I've got a website on the Plymouth University website. And you can look into what our research group does. JESSE: If that's the link, we'll talk about this after but I'll try to include a link for people on YouTube or in the description on SoundCloud. I'll try to include a link in the description that'll click you straight over to that research page. Thanks for spending some time with me, Madie. MADIE: That's no problem. Nice to speak to you. JESSE: Take care. Go to Part 1 Go to Part 2

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