How we can help end the plastic waste crisis
Ahead of Earth Day on 22 April, Closer investigates how plastic pollution is a pandemic of its own…and meets those doing their bit to tackle it
As lockdown restrictions were eased in parts of the UK at the end of last month, sickening images were released on social media of parks and beaches littered with swathes of plastic rubbish. The photographs were a stark reminder of how much plastic is discarded in the UK, of which just ten per cent is recycled.
Shockingly, every day, the UK produces enough rubbish to fill Trafalgar Square to the height of Nelson’s Column, and in Scotland alone, 300 million plastic straws and 276 million pieces of plastic cutlery are used every year.
In the past year, the Covid19 pandemic has slowed progress on sustainability efforts. Household plastic waste from supermarkets rose three times faster than expected due to hygiene fears, while an estimated 1,500 tonnes of face masks and gloves are currently disposed of every month.
Not only does litter ruin the environment, but it severely impacts wildlife. According to the RSPCA, 11 animals get caught up in or injured by litter every day, and thanks to plastic pollution contaminating seas across the world, over a million animals die annually, and around 700 marine species are now in danger of extinction.
Jo Ruxton, founder of Ocean Generation, a charity on a mission to reduce plastic pollution, tells Closer, “During the pandemic, the return to single-use plastics has been a real setback. If we continue heading in the direction we’re going, the planet will be drowning in it – but we can all make a difference. All we have to do is make small tweaks to our daily routines, and that would go a long way. Think about opting for eco-friendly soap bars instead of shower gel, reusable coffee cups instead of takeaway ones, and washable, reusable face masks.”
She continues, “When plastic was created in the 1950s, we were told it was disposable. But plastic never goes away when we throw it out. It was designed not to decompose, it just breaks up into smaller pieces. So, when plastics are littered in parks and beauty spots, they can easily get washed into storm drains and make their way into waterways and the ocean, where they become brittle and break into microplastics, ending up at the heart of the food chain and even in the water we drink.
I’ve seen three-month-old albatross chicks with stomachs brimming with plastic, including toothbrushes and disposable lighters, that their parents have fed them.
“During lockdown, nature has been vital for many of us – let’s give it the respect that it deserves.”