6 Minute English
Curbing our plastic addiction
Episode 181011 / 11 Oct 2018
We use plastic in every part of our lives so could we live without it? Rob and Neil discuss the dilemma of going plastic free and hear why Britain's shopping culture makes it hard to do. Listen to 6 Minute English and learn some useful vocabulary along the way.
This week's question:
The first synthetic plastic – that's plastic made entirely from man-made materials - was created over 100 years ago. Do you know what its brand name was? Was it…
Listen to the programme to find out the answer.
the natural process of something being destroyed or breaking down into small particles
something that can decay naturally without harming anything
something that affects or involves our mind
disagreement between two opposing ideas
taking action to change something – it could be social or political change, or a change in our behaviour or attitude
a big push
people are strongly encouraged or persuaded to do something, usefully by force
Note: This is not a word for word transcript
Hello, and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Neil.
And hello, I'm Rob.
Today we're talking about plastic.
Yes, it's our addiction to plastic that is of concern because this material doesn't decay very quickly, so once we've used it, it hangs around for a very long time.
It is a problem – and decay, by the way, describes the natural process of something being destroyed or breaking down into small particles. We hear so much about the consequences of having too much waste plastic around, don't we?
Indeed. Not only does it cause a mess - wildlife, particularly marine animals, are at risk when they become entangled in plastic waste, or ingest it. It's an issue that needs tackling – or dealing with. And that's what we'll be discussing today and finding out what could be done to solve this plastic crisis.
OK, first, let's challenge you to answer a question about plastic, Rob. The first synthetic plastic – that's plastic made entirely from man-made materials - was created over 100 years ago. Do you know what its brand name was? Was it…
b) Lucite or
I'm no expert, so I'll say c) Formica.
Well, we'll reveal the answer at the end of the programme. Now let's talk more about plastic. This man-made substance is everywhere - from clothing to crisp packets, and bottles to buckets.
But the problem is that most of it isn't biodegradable – that's a word that describes something that can decay naturally without harming anything. Each year, 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced and 40% of that is single-use. So why don't we stop using it?
It's not that easy, Rob, and it's something Lucy Siegle, a BBC reporter and author, has been talking about. She was speaking in a discussion on the Costing the Earth programme on BBC Radio 4, and explained the issue we have with quitting plastic but also how our attitude is changing…
Lucy Siegle, BBC reporter and author
We have this weird psychological attachment to this material that's been around and it's like a push and pull. At the one time, we're so horrified by what we're seeing – the whales dying, the oceans vomiting plastic, beaming in from all over the world, and at the same time we're being told we can't live without it, so that creates a psychological dissonance –which I think is the barrier to behavioural change but I'm finding now awareness has peaked and it's going over into activism.
She mentioned the word psychological – that's something that affects or involves our mind – so here, psychological attachment means that in our mind we feel we have to use plastic – we're addicted.
But we also see the negative impact of plastic – like whales dying – and in our mind we're also thinking we must stop! This has created what Lucy says is a 'psychological dissonance' - dissonance means a disagreement between two opposing ideas – so we're having an argument in our head about the right thing to do – this is the 'push and pull' of thoughts she referred to.
And this dissonance has been the barrier to us trying to solve the plastic issue – but now we're starting to do something about it – we're taking action to reduce our plastic waste – we're turning to activism. That's taking action to change something – it could be social or political change, or a change in our behaviour or attitude.
Of course there has been a big push – that means people have been strongly encouraged – to recycle.
Maybe in an ideal world the best thing to do is go plastic-free – but that isn't easy, is it?
No, it isn't, and it's something Lucy Siegle spoke about. Getting rid of plastic in our lives is a gradual process. But where does she think we can make the biggest difference?
Lucy Siegle, BBC reporter and author
I really think that to concentrate on stopping the flow of plastics into your life is easier and more effective in the long term, than trying to go plastic-free from the outset. We are in the UK, a supermarket culture, so a lot of the tips and tricks to decreasing the flow of plastic are getting round supermarket culture.
She says we have a supermarket culture in the UK. Culture here describes a way of life – or a way that we generally behave – and in terms of food shopping, we tend to do that in supermarkets.
So, for example, customers can make a big difference by putting pressure on supermarkets to use less plastic packaging. It does seem that the future of plastic is in our hands – we need to be more careful about how and when we use it – and use our collective power to force change if it's needed.
But there's no doubt plastic is useful for many things so it will be a long time before it disappears altogether.
And earlier I asked you what was the name of the first synthetic plastic, invented over a 100 years ago. Was it…
b) Lucite or
And I said c) Formica. Was I right?
Formica is a type of hard plastic used for covering tables and working areas in kitchens – but it's not the oldest type. That was Bakelite.
I may have got that wrong but hopefully I'll have more success recapping some of today's vocabulary – starting with decay, which describes the natural process of something being destroyed or breaking down into small particles – which plastic takes a long time to do.
Next we had biodegradable – that's a word to describe something that can decay naturally without harming anything.
Then we had psychological – that's something that affects or involves your mind.
Next up, we had dissonance, which describes a disagreement between two opposing ideas.
And then we mentioned activism - that's taking action to change something. We also mentioned the phrase a big push which means people are strongly encouraged or persuaded to do something, usefully by force.
And finally we had culture. In our context of supermarket culture, it describes a way of life – or a way that we generally behave.
Thanks, Neil. Now, remember you can find more learning English programmes and materials on our website at bbclearningenglish.com. That's it for now but please join us next time for 6 Minute English. Goodbye.
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Fifty years ago, on 18 March 1965, Soviet astronaut Alexei Leonov took the first space walk. Listen to Rob and Neil describing the struggles of that ground-breaking space mission whilst explaining some related vocabulary.
Episode 150507 / 07 May 2015
Furniture with built-in wireless charging technology - like a coffee table is now being sold. 'Built-in' means the technology is included as part of the table. So you just pop your phone on the table, and technology does the rest!
Episode 150430 / 30 Apr 2015
Many animals face extinction. But people are realising that they must act now to stop further losses. A scheme to save the Asian elephant in China could provide an answer.
Episode 150423 / 23 Apr 2015
How does music make you feel? Research shows that it actually influences us more than we realise - whether we're at the movies, the supermarket, or down the pub
Episode 150416 / 16 Apr 2015
Coffee is now the most popular drink in the world. But what about the economics and politics of coffee production? It's as complicated as getting the right flavour in your cup
Episode 150409 / 09 Apr 2015
Rob and Neil put on their sunglasses to find out more about this special star and teach some related vocabulary. We promise you won’t be blinded with science!
Episode 150402 / 02 Apr 2015
The UK has become the first country to approve legislation allowing the creation of babies with genetic material from three people. Listen to Neil and Harry’s conversation and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150326 / 26 Mar 2015
What are some art galleries banning to protect their paintings? Find out with Neil and Harry
Episode 150319 / 19 Mar 2015
An electronic device under your skin?! Workers in Sweden take part in experiment which allows them to get in and out of their office without a key, ID or password. Listen to Neil and Harry’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150312 / 12 Mar 2015
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. He is known throughout the world for his role in defeating Nazi Germany but he also made mistakes. Listen to Neil and Mike’s discussion, and learn new vocabulary.
Episode 150305 / 05 Mar 2015
We live in a richer world. But the gap between rich and poor is still very wide in individual countries. How to change this? Listen to Rob and Harry’s discussion, and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150226 / 26 Feb 2015
The price of vaccines has escalated and some poor countries are struggling to prevent children from catching certain life-threatening diseases, says Medecins Sans Frontieres. Listen to Rob and Neil’s discussion, and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150219 / 19 Feb 2015
Will thinking computers be the end of humans? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150212 / 12 Feb 2015
About 37,000 tourists are expected to visit Antarctica this season. But should they be going to a region with such a sensitive environment? Listen to Rob and Neil’s conversation and learn some new vocabulary.
Episode 150205 / 05 Feb 2015
At a time when more people compete for fewer jobs, are you sure you present your skills and abilities well to a potential employer? Listen to Rob and Neil's conversation and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150129 / 29 Jan 2015
Going to a party where you don't know anyone? Listen to Rob and Neil's advice and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150122 / 22 Jan 2015
We use computers for everything nowadays. Are we forgetting our own abilities - and losing our talent? Listen to Rob and Neil's discussion, and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150115 / 15 Jan 2015
Smoking in cars with children might be banned in England. Listen to Neil and Rob's chat and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150108 / 08 Jan 2015
Is bullying just an attempt to give a bad name to what is part of human nature? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150101 / 01 Jan 2015
What would you put in your time capsule? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141225 / 25 Dec 2014
When enemy soldiers sang together in WW1. Listen to Rob and Finn’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 141218 / 18 Dec 2014
The London school where students speak 42 different languages
Episode 141211 / 11 Dec 2014
Laughter isn't always the best medicine, says research
Episode 141204 / 04 Dec 2014
Are your pictures, documents and videos safe online? Listen to Rob and Finn's chat and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141127 / 27 Nov 2014
Nowhere to park? How the sharing economy is changing the way we use our space
Episode 141120 / 20 Nov 2014
How can science fiction help the world? Rob and Finn discuss a project which aims to inspire through stories of a bright future
Episode 141113 / 13 Nov 2014
Why is eating meat bad news?
Episode 141106 / 06 Nov 2014
Do real-life superheroes exist or are they just cartoon characters?
Episode 141030 / 30 Oct 2014
Rob and Finn discuss the World Health Organisation's recommendations on e-cigarettes
Episode 141023 / 23 Oct 2014
Should we eat less sugar? Listen to Rob and Neil and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141016 / 16 Oct 2014
Is learning English getting easier? Find out what's new
Episode 141009 / 09 Oct 2014
Why do we buy so much food and not eat it all? Learn more about food waste
Episode 141002 / 02 Oct 2014
Is it right to sleep at work? Rob and Finn discuss the benefits of sleeping on the job.
Episode 140929 / 29 Sep 2014
Is the way we see famous people a new thing? Learn about the first 'modern celebrity'.
Episode 140821 / 21 Aug 2014
Bored? You're not alone. Rob and Finn discuss how to deal with boredom and teach some related vocabulary. We promise you won't be bored!