It is the time of year when The Royal British Legion has volunteers out in force, selling plastic stemmed 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.
But in light of the plastic pollution crisis, does the Royal British Legion need to rethink the design of the plastic and paper poppy, and how can we show support this year with plastic free poppy alternatives?
The meaning behind the poppy
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 poppy was one of the only flowers to grow on the otherwise empty and barren battlefields of WWI after the war and it’s significance as a symbol of remembrance was inspired by the WWI poem ‘In Flander’s Fields’, which describes their abundance. It has since been adopted by many nations, especially in the run up to Armistice Day.
For many who choose to wear them (I am aware that some disagree, but I am not here to discuss this) 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.
And so, 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.
Last year though, I thought 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.
And that is when it struck me, the plastic pollution problem with poppies.
You see I can’t be the only one getting home at the end of the day and staring down at an empty metal pin on my coat, with no poppy in sight. It’s frustrating, losing them, it means buying a new one, but really, that’s not the worst of it.
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 of course, making its way down drains where it will pollute our beautiful 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.
An albatross chick surrounded by litter
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’?
Well, I am certainly not suggesting that we stop with the tradition of the poppy, but there are ways to celebrate remembrance day that are more environmentally friendly and still provide support to the Royal British Legion.
First off, I would like point out that you can recycle used paper and plastic 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 variety of metal pins and brooches is vast and the online Royal British Legion poppy shop has them all available to purchase.
The down side of course is that The Royal British Legion may see a dip in the number of individual poppy sales if we all took to doing this. However, the cost of these alternatives is greater, so it shouldn’t affect their fundraising and 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!
Personally, and perhaps you could do this too, I plan to write a letter to the Royal British Legion to see if they think it is 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 and provided some useful alternatives too. If you have any of your own thoughts around how to make the poppy more ‘green’, please feel free to comment.