It is the time of year when The Royal British Legion has volunteers out in force, selling poppies to passers by to raise money in support of those in need within the Armed Forces and to remind people to remember all of those who have fallen, are active or been injured as a result of war. It all began in 1921 to help veterans find employment and housing after the First World War and since then it has grown year on year.
The use of a poppy as a symbol of remembrance was inspired by the WWI poem ‘In Flander’s Fields’, and it has since been adopted by many nations, especially in the run up to Armistice Day.
Every year, like many, I have worn a poppy to support those in need and as a reminder to remember anyone who has been a victim of conflict. This year though, I remember thinking to myself that I should wait this time round and buy one closer to Armistice Day, simply because I usually find that I lose them and end up buying several.
That’s when it struck me, that I can’t be the only one losing them and that if lots of people are losing them, it stands to reason that the plastic attached to them is not making its way to a recycling bin and is instead, most likely, littering the streets and eventually (It gets repetitive saying this), our rivers and oceans.
Sadly, pieces of plastic like the centre of the poppy and the stalk are very likely to become one of the many pieces of plastic that foraging seabirds mistake for food. One of the most tragic examples of this that we know of is in the Midway Islands, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and around 2000 miles from the nearest continent. Here, nesting albatross colonies forage for food to feed their chicks, unaware that the plastic items they mistake for marine life will eventually lead to the starvation of their chicks.
If you haven’t seen them already, I recommend watching the videos below to see for yourself the true extent of the problem. I don’t know how anyone can watch them and not be moved.
Look out for plastic water bottle on the plane journey in the above video, it would be nice if they could practice what they preach.
If you are already aware of the issue, or you have just watched the video, you will know why it now concerns me so much that, every year, so many of these black and green pieces of plastic poppies will likely end up in the oceans to act as bird food.
How do we make poppies ‘green’?
I’m not at all suggesting that we stop with the tradition of the poppy. Without going into the politics of wearing one (I am aware there are disagreements here), for many who do wear them they are a symbol of something that is close to many peoples hearts. Aside from this, they provide the greatest amount of funds for The Royal British Legion charity, to ensure they can keep providing support to members and families of the Armed Forces who need it.
First off, I would like point out that you can recycle old poppies. In fact Sainsbury’s will collect used poppies for either reuse or recycling, which is great. So if you do find that you have one that you need to get rid of, please remember this and dispose of them responsibly. Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite solve the issue of the ones that inevitably drop off your coat and get lost.
So, for those of you who have not yet bought your poppy, or as an idea for next year for those who have, why not purchase a poppy pin instead?
They last year on year, do not contain plastic and the reliable pin clasp will make sure you don’t end up looking down to see a metal pin in your coat and no poppy.
The down side of course is that The Royal British Legion may see a dip in the number of poppy sales if we all took to doing this. However, there is nothing to stop you from still donating year on year should the cause be important to you, just drop a pound or more into one of the many collection tins. Alternatively, you can easily set up a regular donation, be it monthly or annually, on their web page here when you purchase one of their pins.
I also plan to write a letter to The Royal British Legion to see if they think it feasible to investigate the option of using a poppy made entirely of paper. I will update the post with the outcome of this once I can.
I hope this has helped to shed a little light on an issue many of us probably don’t even think about. If you have any of your own thoughts around how to make the poppy more ‘green’, please feel free to comment.