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Cambridge University Science Magazine
Let us start again with some words. Let me address you: Ladies and Gentleman. And let me also address you: Plastic Straws. You: Plastic Bags. You: Single-Use Coffee Cups, Takeaway Cartons, Bottle Caps, Napkins, Laminate Sheets, Shredded Paper, Styrofoam, Earbuds, Light Bulbs, Mirrors — this is for you. So sit up straight and listen, we’ve got work to do if we want to be better, not banned.

When you sat down at your tables tonight and after searching for your recycled paper place cards, you noticed a brown bag on your seat. There is a brown paper bag for each and every one of you tonight. This is your bag. Don’t say Apple Inc. never treats you — Go ahead, open it.

Plastic Bags. Where are you? Please, stand up and show everybody exactly what it is you have got. Tucked neatly inside your brown paper bag, the severed head of a herring gull. Suffocated by a distant cousin of yours still floating his or her way towards the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Don’t be shocked. Be better, not banned.

Plastic Straws. Lime green, Blue and Cerise. Don’t be shy. Everyone, look at these shells of a saltwater terrapin. Go on. Hold them right up. That’s it. You’ll need to use all of your flex now. I want all of you to earn your drinks tonight. I want you to perform a magic trick. Yes, I want you to reach deep inside your shells and pull out every piece of red, blue, green, and purple polypropylene out. Until the shells are empty. Remember folks, all of this is to help you be better and not banned.

Neon fishing line. A special present for you: the tusk of a sea lion.

It’s on a piece of string, so place it around your neck. Do you like how it feels against your skin? Not too tight? Do you think sea lions feel warmth inside their hearts every time you wrap your green arms around their pups’ necks? You’ll have ample time to reflect on this tonight, I promise, but if ever you find yourself unsure of the correct answers, just look down at your new necklace. I’ll be quizzing you later.

I almost forgot. My turn. The organisers have kept whatever’s in my bag a secret but I think I can guess what’s inside — by the smell. I’m told I need to screengrab my reaction. What do you give a spoiled iPhone? Let’s have a look. Is that... a mouldy QR code? Hang on, please excuse me a second while I — my daughter’s better with these things than I am — there we go. A download link for... an app called... Plenty of Dead Fish? Let's put it on the big screen. Haddock. Cod. Lots of Pollock there. A Ray.

This reminds me, before I finish tonight I want to share something my Great Grandmother, Morag, used to say. This was back when newspapers were used to wrap Friday’s dinner. She used to come home from The Golden Fillet stinking of fish, prop me up on her inky knee and say, ‘Once you print something, son, you can’t take it back,’ and she’d continue with the latest sordid headline a customer had found imprinted along the side of a battered cod.

Think of Granny Morag next time you consider burying yourselves at sea. Treat your dead relatives like, ‘I love you’. Treat them like, ‘I was wrong’. Treat every type of plastic like precious words and phrases that should not be taken back, but reused time and again. For if you cast them into the sea, they will return. Please, recycle your family appropriately, before it’s too late. You never know when they might end up on your plate.

There are, however, four words I want you to use freely tonight. Four words I want you to chuck around as much, and as loud as you can. All together now, everybody...

Be better, not banned.

Thank you. Good night.

pencil sketch of breath exiting a disembodied mouthCallum Beesley is a creative writing MSt student at the University of Cambridge. Artwork by Nataliia Kuksa