Now before I begin let me explain. In no way is this intended to come across as myself preaching from up on that rather high horse. But more to show how staggered I have been by the recent facts and figures I have learnt.
Recently there has been a lot in the news and on social media about lets face it most things. In a drive to be better. Be it going meat free, going dairy free, boycotting large brands that do wrong, and lastly but not least the use/disposal of plastics. Now I previously considered myself a good recycler. I dispose of my glass at the bottle banks. Plastics, cardboard and tins are placed in recycling bags on the kerbside. Along with my household rubbish for the weekly collection. I try as hard as I can to minimise food waste, and any clothes/shoes that are no longer needed or wanted either go to charity shops or clothes bins.
That illusion was semi broken after watching some documentaries last week. They then led me to my own research, and to be completely honest I was both flabbergasted and upset by what I watched and learned. The documentaries I watched were produced by Sky from their Ocean Free series.
The first I watched was ‘A Plastic Whale‘. Both heartbreaking and very much eye opening. I had seen these issues touched upon in the BBC’s Blue Planet 2. But it was a far more detailed and unrelenting picture that was drawn for me in this documentary. It followed the demise of two whales. One was euthanised in Norway and the other died off the coast of the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
Both whales were found on post mortem’s to have stomachs filled with plastic bags. These bags had caused obstructions to their small intestines and resulted in painful deaths. The whale in Norway was massively underweight, malnourished and suffering. The whale in Scotland had four kilos of plastic bags removed from its stomach, that had caused an obstruction in its small intestine. Swept through on oceans on currents. The plastic that ends up in our oceans has no discrimination, and it is seeping into our precious ecosystems. These bags, it is thought are mistaken for squid when the whales are diving down into the dark depths of our oceans and ingested.
8 million tonnes of plastic are released into our oceans each year. Online data portal LITTERBASE estimate that up to 70 percent of the litter in our oceans is plastic. Plastic is broken down in our oceans from a combination of UV light from the sun, and the ocean’s wave action into smaller particles. 92 percent of our ocean’s plastic is smaller than a grain of rice. 2 percent of that plastic in our oceans are microbeads from cosmetics. There has been a lot about this in the news just recently, and pressure upon the government to ban their use.
But plastic gets lost into our oceans in ways that you probably don’t even expect. Microfibres from acrylic and nylon clothing that are shed when being washed, then pass through our sewer systems out into the open ocean. Small particles worn from tyres on vehicles while driving, then get washed out to sea by rainwater.
So say that this has sufficiently terrified you as it did myself. You promise to recycle even better than before and make an increased effort to go plastic free. What happens to our recycling once we have recycled it? The second documentary I watched was just as disturbing… ‘Dirty Business‘.
In the UK alone it is estimated that we produce 78 million tonnes of plastic waste a year. Now this is when it it becomes even more astounding. Only 14 percent of that is estimated to be even collected for recycling. Even more depressing is that 2 percent is actually what ends up being recycled. Another 14 percent of that is burnt, another 40 percent of ends up in a landfill. A staggering third of that original figure ends up polluting our environment further, and contributing to those global figures discussed earlier.
Some of you as I thought to myself, might well wonder what is the bloody point of recycling? If it doesn’t even get recycled. But what is the alternative? That we commit it to landfill or litter it, and further contribute to the growing problem? The current system our government works to is flawed. The Package Recovery Note system designed to encourage governments to recycle and gain credits is easy to exploit and lacks control of where, who and what we are sending our recyclable waste to. Defra pointed this out in 2015, and the current environmental secretary had supposedly committed to reviewing this system.
Sadly it is cheaper to export our rubbish than it is to process and recycle domestically in this country. We have entrepenuers and businesses in the UK, willing to turn our rubbish in to a reusable product/resource. It just unfortunately needs to be turned into a more viable and profitable system than the one that we currently have in place.
Some of this is out of hands, but what we can we actually do ourselves? The first obvious one is to continue recycling and dispose of our rubbish responsibly. The second is to join one of the growing movements of going plastic free or following challenges such as those on Ocean Rescue‘s website. For example the hashtag pass on plastic challenge. This encourages you to take a pass on disposable plastic items such as cotton buds, excessive packaging, plastic bottles, microbeads, plastic cutlery and takeaway coffee cups etc. Or take on a bigger challenge such as go plastic free for a week or a month, and see how easy or challenging it is. Maybe you will be able to adopt some real lifestyle changes.
We are getting there slowly but there is the worry that slow isn’t enough. So I challenge you to pick something that you can pass on. For us it is cotton buds, takeaway cups and reusable bags. Plastic bottles is next on my list, but it seems a much harder one to crack for some reason.
No longer can pollution in our oceans, ‘be out of sight and out of mind’. The health of our oceans affects the wellbeing of every living creature in this world eventually. Even a seemingly inconsequential action can have bigger outcomes than we think. After all, a little wave out in the open blue ocean can become a force to be reckoned with by the time it reaches the shore.
Speak to you soon.
Wishing you well.
Stay At Home Piggy
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