Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the last few years, you’ll be aware of the plastic pollution that’s threatening our planet. This isn’t just a landfill problem that may or may not result in harm to the environment; it’s a daily disaster that’s already wreaking havoc in our oceans. It’s believed that over eight million tonnes of plastic is discarded into the sea every year; the majority of which comes from Thailand, Indonesia, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. But who are we to point the finger of blame when our own beaches are frequently littered with plastic?
If plastic pollution continues at its current rate, thirty years from now there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. What a frighteningly depressing thought. But it’s not only fish that are affected by our waste. By the year 2050, ninety-nine percent of the world’s seabirds will have eaten some form of plastic. We, as the superior race of our planet, are the only ones who can prevent this catastrophe from unfolding.
When considering the subject of plastic pollution, most of us automatically think of bottles. But even the tiniest bits of plastic can cause damage to sea life. The glitter used to decorate greeting cards, for example, is particularly hazardous in our oceans. So too are cotton buds, toothpicks, drinking straws, sweet wrappers and plastic bags. And it goes without saying that if fish are eating this plastic, then so too are we. Statistics suggest that someone who eats seafood on a regular basis will swallow up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic every year. Not a pleasant thought. What’s even more worrying is that the consequences of this consumption are as yet unknown.
Those lucky enough to have seen the groundbreaking Blue Planet series will be well aware of this environmental disaster. More than thirty countries had access to Blue Planet II which focused on the issue of plastic pollution on marine wildlife. So disturbing were the scenes, I was reduced to tears on more than one occasion. To see a hawksbill turtle caught up in a plastic sack was heartbreaking; so too was the sight of a sperm whale attempting to eat a plastic bucket. Our oceans are full of fascinating, beautiful creatures, from the weird to the wonderful. What gives us the right to destroy their watery world?
Plastic can enter the ocean in a number of ways. The most obvious is our careless disposal of litter. No matter where you drop it, it can easily end up in the sea. Plastic waste is also dumped from boats and ships when it could be carried ashore and recycled. Small items of plastic such as cotton buds are often flushed away in toilets. Similarly, tiny plastic particles like those found in glitter are washed away down plugholes. Around eighty per cent of the plastic found in our oceans has been needlessly discarded by us. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
Another sorry sight on Blue Planet II was that of a dead albatross chick. The bird died from eating a plastic toothpick which pierced its intestine. Each distressing image was a reminder of the damage we’re inflicting on our world. Millions of turtles have mistaken plastic bags for jelly fish and suffocated to death. Both fish and birds mistake pieces of floating plastic for food. They also get trapped or tangled in plastic waste with no chance of escape. The fact is, our plastic waste is destroying the world’s ocean ecosystem.
The English naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, who presents the award winning Blue Planet series, reminded viewers that the responsibility lies with every single one of us to reduce the use of plastic. Some hotels and restaurants have withdrawn the supply of plastic straws and toothpicks. Many supermarkets now impose a charge for plastic bags, encouraging shoppers to purchase reusable alternatives. Cosmetic manufacturers are reconsidering the use of glitter in their products. These are small steps towards a more environmentally friendly attitude but the problem of plastic pollution requires action from every person in every country.
Kuwait could do plenty to reduce its plastic waste. Thousands of plastic bags are handed out every day in our supermarkets. Hundreds of plastic bottles are discarded on our beaches every weekend. Dozens of plastic containers are distributed by fast-food outlets. We all need to stop and think about where this plastic will eventually end up. It takes around one hundred years for plastic to decompose. Imagine the damage it can cause in that time. Whilst a small number of people are doing their best to promote recycling in Kuwait, the state is still way behind when it comes to the safe disposal of waste.
It’s good to know that some countries have already banned the use of plastic bags, cups, plates and utensils. One start-up business in India is reported to have developed edible spoons – give them a round of applause! Solutions such as this won’t cure the problem overnight but it’s good to know that steps are being taken in the right direction.
If every person were to write a list of the plastic he or she used in one week, the results would be astounding. But it’s not that difficult to change our habits and the time to do so is now. Start by limiting the use of plastic bags. Substitute plastic drinking straws for paper alternatives. Use permanent ‘tupperware’ containers for sandwiches rather than plastic sandwich bags. Buy in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging discarded. Buy eco-friendly cosmetics and toiletries. By making just a few changes to our shopping habits, we can make a massive difference to the amount of plastic waste finding its way into the environment.
The problem of plastic pollution requires our urgent attention. Along with global warming, it is one of the biggest concerns for the world’s oceans. Every single one of us has a responsibility to keep the environment safe and clean. Life, no matter how great or small, is precious. As human beings, it’s up to us to protect our world and those who share it. At the moment, all we are doing is destroying it.