Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Britain's new working-class pride could be a bonus for Labour (Guardian)

That 60 per cent of Britons claim to be proletarian reflects a fear that the Tories have broken a promise on rewarding hard work, writes Gaby Hinsliff.

2. It does not really matter if Britain leaves (Financial Times)

The idea of the UK at the heart of the EU is bizarre, writes Wolfgang Münchau.

3. Obama's new team shows the Iraq lessons are forgotten (Guardian)

His key appointments contributed to the worst foreign blunder in at least a decade, says Gary Younge. Can we trust them in another war?

4. The war in Libya was seen as a success, now here we are engaging with the blowback in Mali (Independent)

Our government and media may often ignore the price of Western interventions, but in future conflicts and fuel for radical Islamist groups, it is still paid nonetheless, writes Owen Jones.

5. Tories, wear your hearts on your sleeves (Times) (£)

On social justice and poverty, the best ideas come from Conservatives, says Tim Montgomerie. The party needs to spell out its moral vision.

6. A straightforward pension scheme for all (Daily Telegraph)

The system we launch today will give workers the help they need in planning for retirement, writes Steve Webb.

7. We need a bloodbath to tame these arrogant officials (Daily Mail)

It requires a determined minister to make the civil service once more the servants of democracy, rather than its wreckers, says Simon Heffer.

8. Ignore ghosts of Eurolovers Dave...be tough with Brussels (Sun)

The greatest threat to an acceptable British outcome is half-hearted and indecisive leadership, says Trevor Kavanagh.

9. It’s transport that will carry us down the road to recovery (Daily Telegraph)

Upgrading the rail system is crucial if we are to be economically competitive again, writes Boris Johnson.

10. The battle against cybercrime is too important to be undone by Eurosceptics (Guardian)

If they come under attack from hackers, Eurosceptics will come to regret their opposition to Europol's Cybercrime Centre, says Misha Glenny.

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Empty highs: why throwaway plastic goes hand in hand with bankrupt consumerism

We are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff.

A University of California study revealed this week that mankind has produced more than nine billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, with almost all of it ending up in landfill or the ocean. With the terrible effects of our decades-long addiction to throwaway packaging becoming increasingly apparent, it’s clear that a fresh approach is needed.

In April 2010, David Cameron set out his vision for Britain in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. Keen to show that the Tories had turned away from the "I’m Alright Jack" individualism of the 1980s, Cameron sought to fashion a softer, more inclusive brand.

The good society, Cameron argued, embraced much higher levels of personal, professional, civic and corporate responsibility. There was such a thing as society, and we’d all do well to talk to our neighbours a bit more. The Big Society, however, was roundly derided as a smokescreen for an aggressive tightening of the Government purse strings. And on the advice of his 2015 election fixer Lynton Crosby, Cameron later dropped it in favour of well-worn lines about economic security and jobs.   

While most would argue that the Big Society failed to amount to much, Cameron was at least right about one thing. We are happiest when we are part of something bigger than ourselves. No matter how much the credit card companies try to convince us otherwise, mindless individualism won’t make us nearly as contented as we’re led to believe by big conglomerates.

By any measure, we are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff. As a nation, we have run up unsecured debts of more than £350bn, which works out at £13,000 per household. Fuelled by a toxic mix of readily available credit and interest rates at historic lows, we cripple ourselves financially to feel the empty high derived from acquiring yet more stuff.

Purchasing has become a leisure pursuit, ensuring the rate at which we acquire new stuff exceeds the rate at which we can find somewhere to put it. Burdened with ever increasing amounts of stuff, consumers are forced to outsource their storage. The UK didn’t have a self-storage industry 30 years ago, but now it is the largest in Europe.

With the personal debt mountain soaring, we’d all do well to realise that we will never have enough of something we don’t need.

The growth of rampant consumerism has coincided with an explosion in demand for single-use plastic. Like the superfluous possessions we acquire, throwaway plastic packaging helps satisfy our desire to get exactly what we want without having any thought for the long-term consequences. Plastic packaging is easy and convenient, but ultimately, will do us immense harm.

In 1950, close to 1.5 million tonnes of plastic was produced globally. Today, the figure stands at more than 320 million tonnes. The vast majority of our plastic waste either ends up in landfill or the ocean, and our failure to kick the plastic habit has put is in the ludicrous position where there is set to be more plastic than fish in global seas by 2050.

There is also growing evidence that our penchant for endless throwaway plastic might be storing up serious health problems for our children later down the line. According to a University of Ghent study published earlier this year, British seafood eaters risk ingesting up to 11,000 pieces of plastic each year. The report followed UN warnings last year that cancer-causing chemicals from plastic are becoming increasingly present in the food chain.

Something must give. Unsustainable as our reliance on fast credit to finance ever more stuff, our addiction to plastic packaging is storing up serious problems for future generations. The instant gratification society, high on the dopamine rush that fades so quickly after acquiring yet another material asset, is doomed unless decisive action is forthcoming.

So what is to be done? The 2016 US documentary Minimalism points to a smarter way forward. Minimalism follows the lives of ordinary people who have shunned the rat race in favour of a simpler life with less stuff and less stress. The most poignant bit of the film features ex-broker AJ Leon recounting how he chose to forgo the glamour and riches of Wall Street for a simpler life. After a meteoric rise to the top of his profession, Leon decided to jack it all in for a more fulfilling existence.

While challenging the view that to be a citizen is to be a consumer is easier said than done, there are small changes that we can enact today that will make a huge difference. We simply have no choice but to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic that we can consume. If we don’t, we may soon have to contend with the ocean being home to more plastic than fish.

Like plastic, our bloated consumer culture is a disaster waiting to happen. There must be a better way.

Sian Sutherland is co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet which is campaigning for a plastic free-aisle in supermarkets.

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