Make 2021 the year Norfolk vows to tackle our plastic problem

An Atlantic Grey seal who had a frisbee caught around her neck for six months on the Norfolk coast Picture: David Vyse

An Atlantic Grey seal who had a frisbee caught around her neck for six months on the Norfolk coast Picture: David Vyse - Credit: David Vyse

Plastic is both versatile and very useful, but current projections suggest by 2050 there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish, says Norfolk Wildlife Trust volunteer, David North

I have nothing against plastic. In the modern world we are rarely far from a plastic item. It is in the high-tech outdoor clothing we wear, inside the cars we drive, and doubtless in every room of the house you live in: from the food containers and packaging inside your kitchen fridge to your toothbrush in the bathroom. Indeed your house may even be partly constructed with it, from plastic drainpipes and guttering on the outside to  interior decorations, floor coverings and light fittings.
But – and it is a big but – we all have a problem in the way plastics are currently produced, used and disposed of. Our plastics are escaping into the environment, killing wildlife, and their production in vast quantity from fossil fuels is adding to the climate emergency.

Plastic pollution is recognised as one of the world’s most serious environmental issues. There are more than 100 million tonnes of plastic in our oceans and we now know that tiny particles of plastic are almost everywhere in the environment, from high on Mount Everest to the bottom of deep-sea trenches. Around 350 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year.
We know that plastic waste can and does kill wildlife. From the seals at Horsey injured with plastic frisbee ‘necklaces’ to sea turtles dying from ingested plastic bags they mistake for jellyfish, plastic is reaping a terrible toll on our marine wildlife. It is sad, but true, that almost all the world’s seabirds now carry some plastic trapped in their digestive systems.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust's David North, Head of People and Wildlife, at Foxley Wood. Photo: Steve Ada

Norfolk Wildlife Trust's David North - Credit: Archant

You might think that recycling is the answer. But of all the plastic ever produced only 9% has been recycled. And the story of plastic recycling is not always what it seems. Developing countries have been, and still are being, used as dumping grounds for plastic waste from the world’s richest economies. This ‘recycling’ has turned some villages in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia into ugly, polluted, dumpsites.
Plastic is cheap and disposable. That is the problem. And until the true cost to our wildlife, environment and our own health is included in its price then its convenience means we are addicted to using it.
So what can we do now to start solving this global problem? What can we do today here in Norfolk? How do we bend the curve of plastic pollution that sees an additional four to 12 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the ocean each year? On current projections some people suggest by 2050 there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish.

Firstly let us make 2021 the year we really take personal action against single-use plastics. Let us ensure we avoid plastic when there are equally good sustainable alternatives. Where we cannot avoid using plastic then let us recycle carefully and properly. During 2021 you could also choose to take part in one of Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s beach cleans. Alternatively why not organise a local plastic litter collection in your community?
As consumers we all have power. We can choose to support companies which are replacing their use of plastics with environmentally friendly alternatives. We can avoid purchasing cosmetic products containing plastic micro-beads. Individual action can only go so far, but if we spread the word and support campaigns for the banning of single use plastics, as has already happened in the UK with drinking straws, we can begin to change mindsets. As individuals we can add our voice towards better regulation of the production, use and recycling of plastics.
Let us make 2021 a year when together we become part of the solution rather than shutting our eyes to this growing problem.

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