In April 2017 I found a bottle of Fairy Liquid on Shankill beach in Dublin. Also in 2017 Procter & Gamble, the makers of Fairy Liquid, announced that they wanted “to raise awareness about the plight of our ocean and raise awareness about the importance of recycling”. There’s no reason to think these two events are related.
The catchy Fairy Liquid TV ad boasted that “Generations have trusted Fairy's cleaning power because it lasts a long, long time. And today it lasts twice as long as the next-best selling brand. That's Fairyconomy”. This famed longevity may have made Fairy the homemakers favourite since its launch in the 1950’s, but unfortunately the even longer lasting plastic is polluting the seas for far longer than any bottle of Fairy can last. Plastics can remain in the ocean for hundreds of years in their original form and even longer in smaller particles. In our lifetimes the day will come when, by weight, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
The design of the famous white plastic bottle, made iconic by BBC’s Blue Peter presenters who transformed it into pencil holders, rockets and, both poignantly and ironically, birdfeeders remained largely unchanged between its launch in 1950 and its decommission in 2000. So, while it is probably impossible to say exactly how old this particular bottle is we can say with some certainty that it’s been at least 17 years since it was sold. And because it lasts such a long, long time it’s still polluting the environment. I am sure that's not the fairyconomy that was intended.
Since the 1960s, in the UK alone, over 4.8 billion bottles of Fairy Liquid have been sold. That’s enough bottles to circle the earth 2400 times. 2400 times. Two thousand four hundred times around the earth. Only fairy bottles. From just the UK. That's a lot of rockets and birdfeeders.
Even today, with our heightened education and awareness, still a staggering 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems so it’s pretty scary to imagine how many of these 4.8 billion fairy bottles are floating around the oceans just like my Shankill bottle. Millions? Billions? And plastic packaging volumes are expected to double within 15 years and more than quadruple by 2050, to 318 million tonnes annually.
That all this plastic is littering our beaches and countryside is bad enough but it’s killing wildlife, destroying habitats and ultimately, we’re harming ourselves by infecting our own food chain with toxic plastics. We need a fair economy, a growing, successful, sustainable economy that values our natural resources and is fair to the environment and the creatures we share it with. A milder, greener, longer lasting, fairyconomy.