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Plastic – the new ‘dirty word’?

June 13, 2018
Plastic the new dirty word?

Plastic – the new ‘dirty word’?

Each year, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) carries out research to determine which new words have entered our vocabulary and which have vanished from common usage. Additionally, other researchers at the Oxford University Press (OUP) try to determine the most popular words in our current language. It seems that ‘plastic’, which emerged from Bakelite in 1907 and dominated much of the developed and now developing world since, has become the new ‘public enemy number 1’.

Plastic – the children’s word of the year

‘Plastic’ has been declared the children’s word of the year after Oxford University Press examined the words used in stories sent to the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show’s 500 Words contest. ‘Plastic’ appeared 3,359 times in the 134,790 stories submitted – up 100% from last year, while unicorns, slime and the computer game Fortnite were among the other subjects that influenced children’s language!

At the risk of mixing my metaphors, we do need to ‘take care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater’. It’s clear that much disposable plastic needs replacing with eco-friendly items but we need to ensure that it’s not all plastic (or closely related materials) which becomes demonised in the minds of children (and adults). Plastic surgery, medical procedures and prosthetics come to mind in the world of health welfare and we’d struggle without some plastic derivatives in areas such as eye glasses, textiles, engine parts, toothbrushes, plumbing (and so on).

The impact from Blue Planet

The impact of the Blue Planet TV series has, rightly, been motivational for young people today and we all hope that the impetus given by this programme and other research does not founder in the face of the drive for profit and convenience.

Ballard’s response

Here at Ballard we are trying to ensure that our lunchtime plastic cups are properly recycled (before, we hope, replacing them completely). The staff rooms have outlawed the use of plastic coffee and tea cups. This has meant more washing up (and not all this is eco-friendly, of course) and colleagues having to carry trays of ceramic cups up and down stairs daily – thus encouraging more exercise! More widely, our printed paper is now fully recyclable and the photocopiers have a carbon neutral supply chain. We are looking to replace all of the plastic bags commonly used for visitor material with hessian bags (or similar). Our rows and rows of solar panels increasingly attract positive comment (and will soon save us money on school energy bills) and the Eco Committee has a very high profile and active presence in school including the occasional ‘cross note’ (on recycled paper, of course) if a light has been left on in a room! Our large battery collector in the main hallway also is a visual reminder about responsible recycling.

Ballard Senior Assembly

A Ballard assembly where pupils delivered a sobering senior assembly about the way plastic is destroying our oceans.

There is much more we can do in school – and, I am sure, in most homes. It’s super to see our young people so active in promoting ecology (and this year we are having a special Eco award at Speech Day to give this extra prominence). We shall endeavour to ensure that plastic, where it is used, is utilised responsibly and disposed of properly. I hope that if next year the OUP and OED come up with a different ‘word of the year’ that it will be equally compelling in a positive direction!

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

We tweet from @BallardSchool

Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

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