I once talked to English Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore who said imagine a timeline a mile high, from say, the big bang at the bottom to the current date at the top. The amount of time man has been on Earth would be as thick as tissue paper at the top, so thin and yet we’ve done so much damage in such a short time.
There’s no avoiding the facts, our planet is changing at an unrelenting and frightening pace and plastic is one of the biggest threats to our fragile, environment.
The recycling of plastic waste is vital. It’s all about numbers, numbers that are hard to grasp. I did read that there’s been a 379 million ton increase in plastic production since the 1950s and that a staggering 91% of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste at this moment in time are not being recycled.
More and more household named brands are announcing plans to reduce the number of new plastics they use, to appeal to younger shoppers, while the music industry itself is working on various projects to combat plastic issues.
Festivals stand out a mile, completely littered with plastic of all kinds. For sure it gets cleaned up but the cost is colossal. The way we listen to music has changed. We favour downloads and it’s been calculated that literally millions and millions of boxes of software, CDs, DVDs and their plastic cases are ending up in landfills or incinerators. One guitar manufacturer in the USA actually encourages recycling old strings, not plastic of course, but it all helps and other large brands are taking note and making inroads.
But that’s all the big guys, so the most important question here is, what can we as musicians do to help? Let’s start with life on the road...
Well, maybe guitar players could try wooden or bamboo plectrums as an alternative to plastic? They’re popular and made from a variety of exotic (not endangered) tonewoods. That’s a personal choice though and may take a while to adjust. Meantime there are many we ways we can help that will have an immediate effect.
#1 Take your own reusable water bottles or cups with you
If the band and crew take their own flasks, reusable bottles and cups, there won’t be a need to stop so many times for takeaways in motorway service stations. Most musicians on the road leave home with ample food supplies for at least the first 24 hours. Refrain from airtight plastic boxes, take small stainless steel containers they’re good for packing fruit, nuts, trail mix, granola, small veggies, and various other snacks and will keep purchased food fresh all day. Avoid clear sandwich packaging, have you ever seen cling film in the sea? Exactly….you can’t see it, but you can see the damage it does.
#2 Make responsible choices when you dine
If you are out for a few days or more, supplies are going to run out. Try and avoid food in polystyrene or plastic buckets, or choose a reasonably priced restaurant to dine with real plates and cutlery. If you have to buy from stores or takeaways, avoid plastic knives, forks, spoons and plates, take your own. Just be vigilant and say no to extra plastic wrapping papers and containers. Various food stores are now handing out wooden knives, spoons, forks and paper straws.
#3 Take your own toiletries
Try to avoid the mini toiletries which are always in little plastic bottles in hotels. Take soap bars from home rather than use the establishments plastic pump containers, they’ll soon realise clients are not using the plastic containers or the infamous hotel shampoos and shower gels.
#4 Stop printing, save ink and paper
Do we really need to print gig and hotel information? We can download hotel information on our phones, or have it sent by email or text. We don’t need the printer anymore (they don’t work anyway), save on ink and paper.
#5 Recycle on the move
Have separate bin liners in the van, for real trash and for recycling. This seems like a no-brainer, but surveys have shown that people are less likely to recycle outside of the home because they don’t want to carry waste with them until they can find a recycling bin. Instead, they’ll just opt to toss their recyclables in the nearest trash bin or hedgerow. Try to hold on to recyclables at least until you see a recycling bin.
#6 Use matches
If you smoke (hopefully not in the band van) use matches instead of disposable lighters. Many of these end up in the stomachs of dolphins and seabirds. More frequently now, vapour canisters are littering the roadside in the road.
#7 Encourage your fans
Your fans are arguably the biggest driving force in the music industry. Branding the crew and band members with your very own renewable bottles and logos will not only help the environment but create massive 'band awareness'.
#8 Use a bamboo toothbrush
How many toothbrushes do you use each year? Imagine how many you use in a lifetime and then multiply this amount by 740 million people and that's just the population of Europe. Consider using recyclable toothbrushes.
#9 Buy and sell second-hand equipment
Create your own circular economy. Don't just dispose of instruments and equipment when you don't need them anymore. Sell or gift them to someone who could use them. You might even make some pocket money that will help pay towards your next album or tour promo.
Consider buying pre-loved equipment. Again, you will not only save money but also help reduce waste at the same time.
#10 Don't buy things you don't need
How many times have you received a present that has no use at all and is potentially just ending in the waste bin straight away? Don't buy useless plastic things for yourself or for other people. This is particularly relevant towards the end of the year and the coming Christmas season.
How cool if we all had the same mindset for our fragile Earth. We need to make a significant change to our environment as a statement for future generations.
About the Author
With over 30 years in the music business, Lars Mullen does indeed wear many hats, as a writer, journalist, photographer, press person for his own company Music Media Announcements. As an extensive traveller, he's a familiar figure reporting from music trade shows around the world. Spending many years touring as a professional guitarist, Lars has also interviewed a host of top bands and artists, continues to write articles for magazines globally and still finds time to track down Fusion artists for our Artist Spotlight column.