Even if plastic only really existed for 60-70 years it has changed our lives completely, from clothing and cooking to catering and product design. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute or 20,000 per second. Only in 2016, 460bn bottles were sold, of which 110bn just by Coca-Cola. Drinks bottles are the most common types of plastic waste, which usually end up in the oceans. Industrial ecologist calculated the total volume of all plastics ever produced, and currently is at 8.3bn tones. Of this, 6.3bn tones is a waste now.
Due to the last episode of Blue Planet II, which showed the dramatic destruction of ocean wildlife by the pollution of plastic, this issue became the centre of attention one more time.
The UK Government has already taken steps to stop this process, such as charging customers for carrier bags and the ban on microbeads, however, Theresa May admitted that bigger amounts of overseas aid money could be used to save marine life.
Ministers are currently looking at ways how to manage the consumption of plastic to make it more sustainable. Some suggestions include deposit-return schemes and introduce more and better free-drinking supplies in cities all over the country.
This huge amount of waste is because of our lifestyles, where plastic is used for many throwaway or “single-use” items, from drinks bottles and nappies to cutlery and cotton buds, all of them ending up in the natural environment. The estimated time taken to biodegrade for both a plastic bottle and a nappy is 450 years. This means that a nappy will be on earth around five times more than the baby it helps. Also, the cotton buds that we throw down the toilet eventually ends up in the oceans, where animals often confuse them for food. It’s likely that about 10m tonnes of plastic currently ends up in the oceans each year.
For seabirds and larger marine creatures like turtles, dolphins and seals, the danger comes from being entangled in plastic bags and other debris. Turtles cannot distinguish between plastic bags and jellyfish, which can be part of their diet. Plastic bags, once consumed, cause internal blockages and usually result in death. Larger pieces of plastic can also damage the digestive systems of seabirds and whales and can be potentially fatal.
A recent survey by Plymouth University found that plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish. This can result in malnutrition or starvation for the fish, and lead to plastic ingestion in humans too. Wasting plastic not only damages the environment, birds, fish and turtles but in an indirect way our health as well.
There are so many little steps we can do to help marine wildlife and decrease plastic pollution. Can you see it now?