Emily Haggett, a Project Officer from: Plastic Free Coastlines takes us right onto the front line of activist work against the issue of plastics in Britain.
Emily describes the seriousness of the situation. "By 2050 it is estimated that there will be more bits of plastic than fish in our seas and it is also estimated that all plastic ever created still exists purely because it takes so long to biodegrade, so this has a really serious impact….Fish eat plastic bags, sea birds get their stomachs full of plastic, it blocks their digestive systems, it's very painful for them and causes them to starve to death. Plastic in the marine environment will eventually break down, into an ongoing source of micro contamination. We eat these fish and digest these plastics as well. Plastics have also been found in sea salts, so we are putting them directly into our food chain, so it's not great."
Emily explains that during the process of bio-degrading by sea water, toxic chemicals in the sea attach themselves to the outsides of the plastics. These chemicals, some of which are dangerous for us at high levels of concentration, are absorbed into the muscular tissue of fish, and this is what we eat. As we are at the top of the food chain, the concentrations that we are getting are higher than those absorbed by the fish.
We use plastics for different periods of times. The worst for the environment are the so called ‘single use plastics' which we use for an average of 20 minutes, discard, and these items are around for hundreds of years. "These are items such as coffee cups, coffee cup lids, plastic cutlery, plastic straws, plastic sachets, cotton bud sticks, those sort of things. A plastic straw can take up to 600 years to break down."
Emily suggests four actions to fight against the continued use of plastics: To refuse, to reuse, refill and recycle plastics. Emily suggests that any listeners or viewers go to the website www.plasticfree.co.uk and download an action plan from there. "There are all sorts of alternatives available, such as bamboo cutlery, stainless steel straws and many coffee shops will now give you a discount if you bring your own cup." The possibility, however, of these options bringing about major change without government intervention is discussed. Emily agrees that government intervention is necessary and cites the petition her organization has created, which has been signed by over a quarter of a million signatures; the largest environmental petition in the UK to date, for a plastic bottle return scheme to be implemented. This petition will be taken to 10 Downing Street, Emily says, and it has been announced that the government will start looking into this. Emily also points out that there is already considerable support for plastic free regulations at the local government level. "If we can start this off through our individual projects, hopefully the government will see that people are really interested in this."
In the UK, Emily says, 38.5 million plastic bottles are used per day. The sort of programs and change that Emily describes offer a glimmer of hope.
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