The Scale Of Plastic Pollution Choking Our Seas.
Following the final episode of Blue Planet II, which showed the devastating impact of humans on the world’s seas, the spotlight is on the scale of destruction caused by excessive use of plastics. Plastics now dominate modern human life, with many throwaway or single-use products such as drinks bottles, nappies and cutlery, ending up in the natural environment. Over the course of the series, Blue Planet II highlighted the tragic impact this waste is having on marine life, with whales seen to be dying from toxic levels of plastic-related pollution. In last night’s episode, viewers saw the contents of a South Georgian albatross’ stomach. It is likely the bird had been fed plastic bags by its mother.
There are 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste on Earth
Even though plastic has around been around for the last 60-70 years, the material has dominated the way in which we conduct our lives, taking a crucial role in everything from clothing, cooking, engineering and product design. Because of this, the rate at which we are producing plastics has accelerated; there are now billions of tonnes of plastic on Earth. A report in Science Magazine estimated the production of plastics to date to be 8.3bn tonnes. Of this, 6.3bn tonnes of plastic is now waste – a majority of which, some 79 percent, is in a landfill or the natural environment.
Plastic will outweigh fish by 2050
David Attenborough warned in Blue Planet that “the oceans are under threat now as never before in human history.” There is now an estimated 1:2 ratio of plastic to plankton and, left unchecked, plastic will outweigh fish by 2050. Currently, the amount of plastic in the oceans is estimated to be about 150 million tonnes – that’s roughly a fifth of the weight of the fish.
A nappy will be on Earth five times as long as the baby it helps
One reason why plastics are so commonly used is that they’re designed to last. It means that most of the plastic we’ve created still exists in some form today, leaving it to plague our natural environment. Many of us would forget about a nappy the second it gets put into a bin – but that nappy will stay on Earth for 450 years, which is over five times the average life expectancy of someone in Britain. Fishing line, which poses dangers to sea life, takes an even longer time to biodegrade. It is estimated to stay on Earth for as long as 600 years.
For every 100m of British beach, there are over 200 plastic or polystyrene items
Plastic waste also ends up on the beaches that millions of us enjoy every year. Almost 7,000 people took part in the Great British Beach Clean in September 2017 – a project that removed 255,209 pieces of litter from 339 beaches. It found that there were, on average, 718 pieces of rubbish for every 100m stretch of beach the team cleaned – marking a 10 percent rise on last year. Tiny bits of plastic were the most common items found, with 225 pieces found for every 100 metres. The group stated that “litter from foods and drinks, usually used just once and thrown away, made up at least 20pc of all of the rubbish we picked up”.
We are selling 20,000 more bottles every second
One of the most significant contributors to plastic pollution is drinks bottles. Some 480bn plastic bottles were sold globally in 2016 – more than one million per minute. The UK Government is currently considering ways to manage this consumption to make it more sustainable. Some proposals include deposit-return schemes and better free-drinking supplies in cities.
Credit: Ashley Kirk for The Telegraph, 11 December 2017.