Plastic waste has reached epidemic levels. Our oceans are becoming filled with plastic, that is being dumped into the water killing our seals, whales, fish, sea birds, and many other sea animals. It’s also littering our beautiful beaches and making its way into the food chain. In fact, things have got so bad that it’s being estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.
Plastic pollution isn’t something that has just happened overnight. It’s something that has been happening for many years. Last year, Blue Planet 2 did a fantastic job of bringing the problem of plastic pollution into the homes of people who may not have realised the extent of the problem before. We all watched as a whale carried around her dead calf as David Attenborough told us the animal had likely died because the mother’s own milk being contaminated by plastic in the water.
In Scotland, the problem with single-use plastics can be seen far and wide. Last week, it was reported that a plastic fragment had been found stuck in a dead harp seal’s stomach which had been washed up on the coast of Skye, while a stag was seen on the Isle of Rum in May with a discarded fishing net wrapped round its antlers.
These heart-breaking incidents are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plastic pollution. Earlier this year, Greenpeace released shocking figures showing the extent of microplastic pollution (small plastic items less than 5mm in length) in Scottish coastal waters. Their survey found that microplastic contamination was present in 31 of the 49 samples taken from 27 different locations around the Scottish coast.
This isn’t just a problem that’s affecting our wildlife though, it’s affecting humans as well. If plastic is being found in fish, then it’s only inevitable that it is going to make its way into the food chain. If you are someone who does eat seafood, then there’s a real possibility that you will in turn digest the plastic too. Last week, scientists from the University of Hull and Brunel University found that tiny pieces of plastics were present in all samples of mussels they tested in British seawaters and bought from local supermarkets.
So, what is being done to tackle this problem of single-use plastics?
Well in Scotland, the Scottish Government has started to fight back against plastic. Last month, it announced a ban on single-use plastic coffee cups in all Scottish Government offices, a move which would stop 450,000 plastic cups being thrown away each year.
It is also consulting on proposals to ban the manufacture and sale of plastic-stemmed cotton buds in Scotland. And there’s also plans to scrap plastic straws altogether in Scotland following an announcement that they will no longer be used anywhere in the Scottish Parliament.
On a local level, more and more businesses are taking plastic pledges working to reduce their own plastic waste whether that be by ditching plastic straws or encouraging people to reuse cups and containers.
While all this is a step in the right direction, we can’t just wait around for action to be taken by others without taking some responsibility ourselves. We all know how damaging single-use plastic is to our wildlife and the environment, so it’s time we took a minute to think about our own plastic consumption. I’m personally trying to eliminate as much plastic from my life as I can. I’ve stopped using plastic bottles, ditched plastic straws, and I carry reusable bags everywhere I go. I’ve cut down the food that I used to buy in plastic and try to buy in bulk where possible. It’s not going to change the world overnight, but if we all stopped using as much single-use plastic then it would start to make a difference.
We’ve now reached a critical point in the war against plastic. If we don’t take urgent action, then the damage to our wildlife and environment will be irreversible and we really will be swimming in a sea that’s filled with more plastic than wildlife.