Paradise Lost? Nowhere Escapes The Creeping Hand Of Plastic

Throughout my travels across the globe I’ve seen my fair share of vistas that take your breath away. Different landscapes are special for different reasons. But some places just stand out above all the rest. New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island has to be up there as one of the Earth’s most mesmerisingly beautiful places.

It is, to a certain extent, removed from modern civilization. The residents are responsible for supplying their own power using solar, wind or gas energy and tourists will struggle to find a local ATM or bank. The refreshingly tranquil island, affectionately called ‘the barrier’ by locals, is covered in forest, hosts soothing hot springs and boasts almost implausibly idyllic beaches.

While the island secludes itself away from the franticness of modern life, there is one thing it cannot escape – the insidious plastic pollution of the world’s oceans. Earlier this year a man collected eight bin bags of plastic which had been cast ashore on one of its beautiful beaches.

Closer to home it’s clear that the problem of plastic pollution is just as grave after government data revealed a dramatic rise in the amount of litter found on the seabed around Britain. The data, published by the DEFRA, showed an average of 358 litter items were found per square kilometre of seabed in 2016, a 158% rise on the previous year. Nearly 78% of the seabed litter was plastic.

Unknowingly, by allowing plastic to surge into the sea, we are not only harming the marine environment but also ourselves. When ocean life feeds on plastics the toxins are absorbed into their body and passed up the food chain. Furthermore, as the plastics remain in the ocean, they can release toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A.

Around eight million tonnes of plastic finds its way into the ocean each year and by 2050 it is estimated there will be more plastic in the sea than fish and 99% of all seabirds on the planet will have consumed some. Additionally, it is thought the sea now contains 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy.

Our oceans are a precious commodity and thanks to programmes like Blue Planet II we are being given an insight into this fragile gift Mother Nature has given us. Following filming, Sir David Attenborough called for the world to cut back on plastic use. Humanity holds the future of the planet “in the palm of its hands”, he said.

Shall we look to recycling to stem the flow of plastic? A recent YouGov survey, commissioned by campaign group 38 Degrees, shows 78% of adults believe current waste collection and recycling schemes are not doing enough to stop littering, and 80% say the current system is not doing enough to tackle ocean pollution.

Statistics show the average UK household uses 480 plastic bottles a year, but only recycles 270 of them, meaning nearly half are not put in recycling. On a national scale, of the 35million plastic bottles sold each day, nearly 16 million are not being put out for recycling.

People aren’t convinced by recycling and don’t believe it has the impact it promises. Given that British coastlines are averaging 358 pieces of litter per square foot, I can hardly blame them. If 80% of people feel that the solution of recycling, which is pushed to the forefront of the ideas queue, isn’t up to scratch, then we must turn our attention to something else.

A Plastic Free Aisle, the aim of campaign group A Plastic Planet, would remove the need to recycle plastics by eliminating the opportunity to purchase them. At the moment there is limited choice for those who choose plastic-free shopping. Instead we are left with no choice but to purchase our goods encased by copious, and often needless, amounts of plastic.

We can be the generation that kicks plastic into touch. It’s high-time we said ‘no’ to single-use plastic.

Ben Fogle is backing campaign group A Plastic Planet’s calls for a Plastic Free Aisle in supermarkets.