Plastic is everywhere. It’s strong, long lasting and cheap. This is great for some products which need to preserve food or other items but our over-reliance on single-use plastics has contributed to our current ‘throwaway’ society. Some of these items are used for just a few minutes but they have not gone away. Only a small proportion of plastics is recycled globally, with some ending up in landfill, while others have been dispersed into our soils, rivers and oceans and broken down into tiny plastic particles called ‘microplastics’.
Many plastic items are light, which means that they are easily transported by wind or water to our drains and from here they are carried by rivers to the coast. Plastic makes up most of the litter on our beaches and 80% of the litter on our beaches comes from the land. The material breaks down, but never disappears, creating ‘plastic oceans’. Plastics are often mistaken by marine animals and seabirds for food. This is not only deadly for our wildlife but also means that the material is entering the food chain. Soon, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.
Although the scale of the challenge may appear overwhelming, governments around the world are coming together to develop solutions and there are some small actions that we as individuals can do which adds up to a big change.
Recently there has been more interest in using other materials as alternatives to plastic such as biodegradable materials, although this alone isn’t the answer. Prevention must be at the source of our efforts.