Today I tried something called beachcombing. Pretty soon I gathered big piles of driftwood, interesting pebbles, and a whole spectrum of multicolored sea glass.
My womblesque transport of beach treasures was pretty impressive, except for one big issue. Most of it was horrible plastic waste.
I recently learned that there are people who paint for a living. This is called upcycling! These people can literally go out and collect items that are absolutely of no use or adornment to man or beast, and then skillfully transform them into something wonderfully handcrafted and desirable. I just wish I could be so smart and imaginative.
Frankly, my wombling on the beach didn’t yield much that could realistically be considered desirable or useful from a distance. Most of my horrors were just a lot of harmful plastics. The fish that destroy the waste that we “everyday people” have so carelessly “left behind” are very far from useful or desirable in any way. But, it gave me a very rude awakening.
Let’s briefly take a look at my horrific collection of horrors:
A faded yellow ADDIS plastic bucket – without its handle. An old Coke bottle with a faded Chinese label. Half a rubber soccer ball (which I swear I lost in 1973). A broken blue builder’s helmet with a crab claw stuck in it. A five gallon plastic oil canister in Castrol GTX green – containing some sort of mysterious gun (which obviously hasn’t been examined but disposed of very carefully). I also found loads of Styrofoam fast food containers.
I think you might already have a rather dark picture here?
Either way, as the great Sir Bruce Forsyth would have said. “Didn’t he do well?” It’s because I found all these nasty things in 40 minutes flat. But unlike Brucey’s Killer Game goodies, my set of abominations was downright awful. Beyond disgusting.
The plastic problem
We all know that marine plastic pollution is now a global problem. Basically where there are a lot of people there will be a lot of plastic waste. And now plastic waste is rearing its ugly head even in parts of the world where there is no one around at all. Remote locations such as the Mariana Trench or deep below the Arctic ice cap.
According to a recent report, more than 200,000 tonnes of plastic are “leaked” in the Mediterranean alone EVERY year. LEAK ? Sorry, but 200,000 tonnes, isn’t that really a leak? It’s a veritable deluge of monstrous garbage. The term “leak” suggests something slow and maybe even controllable. Far from there! 200,000 tonnes “leaked” in the Mediterranean alone are in fact frightening, shameful and ultimately even catastrophic.
Estimates indicate that Egypt is one of the main sources of this silent Mediterranean calamity. But it comes from all the countries bordering the Mediterranean. Thousands of tons of plastic waste trickle down the mighty Nile from other African countries (as well as from Egypt itself) and eventually end up in the Mediterranean Sea. The numbers are truly astounding. They demonstrate the scale of this disaster. Worse yet, the numbers seem to be increasing rather than decreasing, which is even more disappointing.
This outrage has lasted for decades. I have always lived near the coast and have noticed, for more than 25 years, the ever increasing amount of plastic waste blown on the pebbles and accumulating on the shores. Like the little by little boiled frog, people are now awakening from it. Let’s just hope it’s not too late.
Microplastics, massive stake
So far I have only mentioned the immediately visible items. The biggest potential threat is in the things we can’t see so easily. Microplastics.
The problem lies in the sheer quantity that now exists in the natural environment. Some estimate that the Mediterranean Sea contains over a million tonnes of microplastics in and around its waters. It’s serious.
Our use of plastics in everyday items and industrial processes has resulted in a vast deluge of very slow to degrade materials that enter our environment and even our food chain. As plastics break down into tiny particles (
It is a case of small particles equating to huge problems. While microplastics are often less than 5mm in size, this product is of great concern to the scientific community. Frankly, this should be of concern to all of us.
It all sounds completely weird when you think of microplastics coming from what outwardly appear to be perfectly harmless items such as nylon clothing, car tire dust, and general household garbage. It even comes from personal care products that contain exfoliating nylon microbeads (now widely banned).
But we all know there is a problem, just as we all know about climate change. Again, the question is, what are we REALLY doing about this? At present, the answer in both cases is clearly not sufficient.
An everyday problem
Plastic pollution is visible to many of us every day. Every time I move a cargo of groceries from our shopping cart to a car trunk, all I hear is the constant rustling of single-use plastic wrappers. I honestly think we buy more plastic waste than edibles in terms of actual volume.
Surely this is a problem that largely concerns large-scale producers, distributors and retailers? I realize that these companies are governed by “supply and demand”, so I am not trying to absolve myself of any personal responsibility.
It must therefore be up to all of us, as consumers, to persuade suppliers to package our goods in a way that significantly reduces the amount of plastic produced and then thrown away. We simply cannot continue as we have been.
Even recycling does not seem to be the absolute answer as many times the problem is simply exported in bulk. A case of out of sight, out of mind. The problem is, the problem doesn’t just go away. It ends up coming back to our own shores one day – one way or another.
While some of us are already doing everything we can to reduce the pickup of single-use plastics, it looks like the plastic habit remains due to the way we are pressured into purchasing products. Especially when it comes to the so called “fast fashion” which is often produced from blends of polyester (in other words plastic).
It’s a sad story to tell. It seems we need millions of beachcombers to rid our shores of this deadly scourge. But first we need to stop turning our majestic oceans into smelly landfills. The idea of our grandchildren smothering plastic-contaminated seafood with a thousand island dressing is, to me, utterly odious.
Surely the less plastic we produce, the easier it will be to dispose of waste? Or is it just too simplistic?