Have you resolved to take action for oceans in 2019? Isabel Thomas, author of This Book is Not Rubbish, lists five pollutants we can easily avoid, from bags and bottles… to burgers.
Plastic carrier bags are used for an average of 12 minutes. It’s completely daft to make them from plastic designed to last 500 years. Yet up to a trillion single-use plastic bags are still used around the world each year – that’s almost two MILLION a minute!
Each bag is the start of a sad story. Around 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s seas and oceans every year. One study of sea birds found that 9 in 10 had plastic in their stomachs, and not just a little bit – more than 36 pieces per bird. Turtles and beaked whales are known to eat plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish or squid. Even non-predatory filter feeding whales are swallowing plastic bags that drift into their enormous mouths. Globally, up to a million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year from eating plastic.
The good news is that small changes add up to a BIG difference. Governments around the world are introducing bans or fees to limit plastic bag use, and they really work. The average person in Britain once used around 140 bags per year. When a charge was introduced, this fell to around 25 bags per year. But we can do better. In Denmark, people use an average of just four bags per year. So next time someone asks, ‘Would you like a bag?’ channel your inner sea turtle and say no.
Lose your bottle
In the minute it took you to read this far, one MILLION plastic bottles have been bought, beginning a journey that all-too-often ends in the stomachs of zooplankton, fish, albatross chicks, whales and seals.
Whether you’re puffing and panting on the sports pitch, sweating through the school disco or crying tears of boredom in a grammar lesson, you need to drink all day to replace the water your body uses. But this water doesn’t have to come from a disposable plastic bottle. After all, PET (the plastic used for most soft drinks and water bottles) wasn’t invented until the 1970s, and at least 100 billion people had managed not to die of dehydration before then! Plastic is just a bad habit, and it’s up to us all to break it.
If you do end up with a disposable plastic bottle, it’s not the end of the world (well, not yet). Make sure you reuse it as many times as possible, before finding a recycling bin. Keep an eye out for deposit return schemes, too – in some places, you can even make money by collecting discarded bottles and bringing them to be recycled.
Say no to straws
People in the UK use around 8.5 billion drinking straws every year. Each one gets used for just a few minutes before it’s thrown away. Like all plastic litter, straws often end up in the ocean where they take more than 200 years to break down. In fact, straws are one of the top ten items found in beach clean-ups – and that’s one of the better places they can end up. Plastic straws have been found tangled in the nostrils of sea turtles and stuck in the stomachs of penguins. You get the picture – straws suck.
Some cities and countries have already banned plastic straws, and more are due to follow. They may be replaced by more eco-friendly alternatives, including straws made from paper, straws made from metal and even straws made from straw! It’s not a new idea – the very first drinking straws were the hollow stalks of plants. But even biodegradable, compostable straws still have to be manufactured and transported to shops and homes, sucking up resources on the way. The best action is to say no to straws altogether.
Each year, 7.6 billion humans chomp their way through meat from an incredible 65 billion animals. Raising these animals – and getting them from farm to fork – puts pressure on the planet in many ways and is responsible for nearly 10% of all the freshwater humans use each year. Animal farming is also one of the main sources of water pollution, as animal poo, and fertilizers from growing animal feed, are washed into rivers and oceans. These extra nutrients cause algae to grow so rapidly, the water becomes toxic for fish and other animals.
Avoiding meat (and dairy) for just one day a week could help the planet more than taking a family car off the road for FIVE WEEKS. What about the other six days? Well, if you love meat too much to go veggie but you want to be kinder to the world’s oceans, stick with fish that’s caught in a responsible way, or free-range chicken. Eggs are even better.
Get rid of glitter
We all know glitter gets EVERYWHERE. One sparkly creation, and you’re picking the plastic-coated flakes out of your hair, carpet and dog for weeks. Once they’re washed down the sink, these tiny flakes pass straight through water filtration systems and into oceans. Like other microplastics they’re doing irreparable damage to the creatures that live in our oceans.
These tiny plastic particles also make their way back to our plates. In the ocean, plastic particles quickly become covered with a layer of algae that makes them smell delicious to fish, so hundreds of marine animals eat plastic. Every time we eat fish or seafood, we’re also eating microplastics (or the chemicals that leak out of them). Being vegetarian doesn’t help much – plastic fibres have been found in sea salt, and even in honey. No one knows yet knows what the impact will be on human health.
Some people have called for glitter to be banned, like microbeads were. Don’t wait for this ban. You can track down biodegradable glitter, made from natural materials such as eucalyptus instead of plastic. Or follow the lead of one group of nurseries in the UK and decorate with lentils instead (though maybe not on your face). The only sparkle in the oceans should come from the fish.