A new documentary film called A Plastic Ocean, backed by Sir David Attenborough, is currently being filmed to highlight the issue and reveal the true extent of plastic pollution in our oceans.
Some of the findings are shocking. Today, there is six times more plastic than plankton – the basic foodstuff of sea-life such as whales, shrimps and jellyfish – in our seas. This means animals which feed on plankton are mistakenly wolfing down pieces of plastic, which then clog up their stomachs with dangerous and often fatal consequences.
Similarly, turtles, which are one of the oldest creatures on our planet – many alive today were born long before plastic was even thought of – have been found with plastic bags tangled up in their digestive systems after they mistook them for their usual dinner of jellyfish. An estimated 95 per cent of seabirds now have plastic in their guts.
“I’ve sadly seen so many turtles and seabirds with balloons and ties tangled up in their guts, which has killed them,” says Jo Ruxton, the producer for A Plastic Ocean.
As more animals consume more plastic, there’s the danger that it will end up in our food chain. Which means if you’re eating fish or anything that comes from the sea, there’s a strong chance you’re eating plastic.
While this might not sound too dangerous, the worrying thing is that plastic that sits in the sea for a long time naturally attracts chemicals floating around the ocean, such as DDT from agriculture, that have been linked to autoimmune problems, diabetes and even some cancers. And although most of us in the UK can choose whether or not to eat fish, that’s not the case for many poorer coastal people around the world whose sole diet comes from the sea.
But where is all the plastic coming from? Surprisingly it’s not just about plastic being left on a beach or dumped from a ship.
We know Yours readers are passionate about the environment and a conscientious bunch, and would never leave litter. In fact we know you’re more likely to be binning litter when you see it and looking out for the environment.
But we can guarantee almost all of us are responsible for plastic that doesn’t degrade in our precious oceans without even realising it. From cleaning our teeth to wiping off our make-up, we are unwittingly adding to the eight million tonnes of plastic worldwide thrown into the ocean each year – all of which is having an alarming impact not just on our ocean floors, which are damaged by the litter, but our marine wildlife, too. The reason is that many of our everyday products, such as toothpaste, body scrubs and facial scrubs, contain microbeads – tiny, barely-visible plastics that act as abrasive scrubs in the products. But as they’re not filtered out by our sewage systems, they’re one of the worse culprits for adding plastic to our oceans.
But can we make a difference?
TV naturalist Chris Packham, who has teamed up with Keep Britain Tidy to raise awareness of plastic litter, says: “Things are likely to get worse before they get rapidly better and we will have to go through a degree of discomfort before we start putting things right, but I want individuals to know that they can make a difference themselves.
“It’s easy to put the blame on other people, on companies or the government and think it’s their responsibility to solve the problem. But we have the power to solve the problems ourselves. And that self-empowerment is the most important thing.”
So while unfortunately there’s very little we can do to remove the plastic already in the sea – although there are technologies in development that could achieve this one day – the main priority now is preventing plastic pollution for the future, individual by individual, action by action. And this is especially important in the UK, where we lag behind many of our European friends in our efforts to clean up our life in plastic.
- To find out more about A Plastic Ocean visit www.plastic oceans.net
6 very simple life changes that can help!
1. No more microbeads
There are natural alternatives to microbeads such as sand, oatmeal, sea salt and ground nutshells that do exactly the same job.
Luckily, some companies, including Lush, Neal’s Yard Remedies and Boots’ own brands, have now signed up to keep many of their products free from microbeads meaning you can choose not to have them in your beauty regime. To see if a product contains microbeads,
look on the ingredients list for polythene, polypropylene, PET, PMMA or nylon. If you have a smartphone you can also use the Marine Conservation Society’s app, where you scan a product barcode to see if it contains microbeads.
Visit www.beatthemicrobead.org to find out more. Sign the petition to encourage the government to ban plastic microbeads in all cosmetic products here
2. Pass on the plastic straw
Straws are now among the top ten marine debris items with more than 500 million straws used every day, often for a matter of minutes, before they are thrown away, ending up in landfill or in the sea. The difficulty is that most can’t ever be recycled, especially if they’re black in colour as recycling relies on the reflection of light and black doesn’t reflect light. So next time you reach for a plastic straw, think again about if you really need it.
3. Wave goodbye to balloons
Letting off balloons might look a pretty sight, but it’s not when they later float down into the sea. The best thing is to avoid using balloons yourself and try lobby your local council to ban the release of balloons and lanterns in your area.
If you know someone is planning to let off balloons for a charity event or tribute, suggest alternatives such as planting a tree, blowing bubbles or having a minute’s applause. Again, the Marine Conservation Society has advice for how to go about this on its website www.mcsuk.org
4. Pick up litter
You might think it’s only litter on beaches that ends up in the ocean. But litter from anywhere can make its way to the sea.
In fact it’s estimated that 80 per cent of marine litter starts its life on land. That’s because a crisp packet, for example, dropped on the pavement or a bag of rubbish that blows out of a bin on a windy day easily makes its way to a drain, which then takes the litter to the oceans. Similarly, rubbish dumped in canals and waterways all feeds into the sea.
Picking up any litter you spot in the streets will really help the problem. And if you live near the coast, joining a local beach clean up can make a big difference. Since 1994 plastic litter on beaches has increased by 140 per cent so it’s vital we do our bit to try and stop this rubbish getting into the water. To find your nearest beach clean-up, contact the Marine Conservation Society by calling 01989 566017 or visit mcsuk.org/beachwatch
5. Say goodbye to wet wipes
From taking off make-up to scrubbing the kitchen floor, Britons spend more than £500 million a year on wet wipes. But they’re not the efficient, easy-to-dispose products we might think they are.
Wipes are not dampened paper, they’re often made from a mix of plastics, wood pulp and cotton that is very hard to break down. That’s why we should never flush wipes down the loo, even if it says ‘flushable’ on the packaging, as these wipes often end up floating around sewers or the sea, adding more microplastics to the oceans, for years to come.
The good news is there are alternatives. Muslin cloth wipes made from 100 per cent cotton or bamboo cloths are great for skin or for using as baby wipes, while a good old-fashioned damp cloth is best for cleaning jobs.
6. Go on the plastic attack
Getting the message across to companies and producers that we want them to stop using so much plastic can be a powerful weapon. And one of the most effective ways of getting this message across is, where we can, to stop buying plastic goods. There are all kinds of alternatives being developed for plastic packaging that are not harmful to our seas. For example IKEA is considering using packaging made of mushrooms to replace polystrene. Write a letter or send an email to producers to ask them if they are looking at this latest technology or you’ll stop buying their goods.
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