The Plague Of Plastic, Not Only In Our Seas And What Is Being Done To Combat It

At the moment, the highest television audiences on a Sunday evening are not for a singing contest, but an incredible documentary called Blue Planet 2. It not only has the most incredible camera work, narration and accompanying music, but also contains sobering scenes and warnings. In one episode, there was a scene of a family of clown fish, seeking somewhere for a safe place for the female to lay her eggs. The family searched for something that was hard enough, but also light enough to move close to the safety of the sea anemone. What should come into view, brought in on the tide?

A plastic bottle.

There was a brief moment of silence in Sir David Attenborough’s narration, and then said that the material was too light for the needs of the fish. But the sight of the family of fish trying to manoeuvre the plastic bottle spoke volumes. Another photograph which has gone viral over social media is that of a beautiful sea horse, with its tail wrapped around a cotton bud stick.

It is so very sad, and at the end of the day it is our planet and our responsibility to care for it. We are now a “throw away” society. My grandparents always said that “in their day” things were made to last. I remember having the “pop man” deliver glass bottles of pop, and then getting a few pence back as you returned the empty bottle to the corner shop.

Items which are purchased online can take seemingly forever to get out of the plastic wrapping before you even open it. I was sat in my company canteen as I was researching and drafting this blog and directly opposite me was a vending machine, full of plastic bottles of fizzy pop and juice. A colleague on another table poured their juice from a plastic bottle into a plastic cup. Even pubs and restaurants are becoming conscious of the overuse of drinking straws.

Is Plastic Just Found In Our Seas and Oceans?

When you walk along a beautiful sandy beach, what do you inevitably come across? A plastic bottle or fork, remnants of a picnic, but it also finds its way into our “green and pleasant” land. Carrier bags from supermarkets and retailers were clamped down on, a move which prompted headlines on tabloid newspapers and news channels. How easy was it to have just one item at the checkout and find yourself popping it into a carrier bag? Cue comedians making jokes about putting locks on the “carrier bag” drawers in the kitchen because they were now worth a small fortune! There are landfills filled with once loved toys and all sorts of no longer used or wanted items. Or you can drive out to the countryside and see plastic wrapped around fencing, either carelessly discarded or carried about by the wind. So, its not only our oceans and in our seas where there is a drastic issue.

As I researched this blog, I typed “Plastic” into the search bar on google. There are literally 100’s of pages and images ranging from “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” to related searches of “How does plastic affect marine life?” Of course it does mean a lot to me as a passionate fishmonger, who loves to research into all things affecting the life in our seas and oceans, and that leads on to another question.

Is Our Fish Safe To Eat, And What Do Our Fishermen Do About Litter In Our Waters?

Quality and safety of our fish is something which everyone takes a keen interest in, and that is why there are organisations such as The Marine Stewardship Council and also the RFS (Responsible Fishing Scheme) which vessels can get accreditation for. The fish which is caught pass through fish processors before it lands on our fishmonger slabs, shops, pre packaged or in our restaurants and fish and chip shops. Fish processors and heads of technical, such as Flatfish Ltd and their head of technical Mr Anton Diestchel-Buehler, take a very keen and vested interest in environmental effects on fish stocks.

Are fishermen to blame for what is left in our waters? The answer to that is, we are all to blame for what is found in our waters. Of course, for fishermen, their “workplace” is the sea. Accidents happen. Fish netting can get snagged on rocks and craggy sea beds, and sometimes for the safety of themselves and their crew, the skipper has to make the decision to cut them loose. That is the last resort for them, however, as their nets will cost into the £1,000’s, and could cost them more than the value of the fish they’d managed to haul on board. Also, vessels are now so well equipped and advanced, that skippers can return to the spot they lost their netting and actually retrieve it back from the sea. Even worse things can happen at sea, ships can sink and men tragically losing their lives at sea in storms. Any responsible person does not want to have plastic in the seas if they can help it. So, do fishermen make any difference to our seas?

Fishing For Litter

There are groups which go onto beaches and do clean ups, collecting bags of rubbish to keep our beaches clean. Did you know, however, that there is an organisation called Fishing For Litter?

It operates in Scotland and the South West Of England, and their latest figures on their website are as follows :-

1210 tonnes of litter have been collected by Scottish and South West member vessels.

30 harbours participate in the scheme

and 380 Vessels are signed up to the scheme at the current time.

Fishermen see the importance of taking their responsibility seriously and do not get enough credit for what they do, not only for the incredible hard work they do in their fishing endeavours, but also in helping to clear our seas. So, if they take their responsibility seriously on the seas, shouldn’t we on land?

Plastics vs Glass

Plastic was hailed as revolutionary and was created a lot earlier than some may realise. There were reports of polythene being created in 1898, and then reformed in 1933.

In 1907 a Belgian born American by the name of Leo Hendrik Baekeland created Bakelite. It was after the First World War, and advancements (for want of a better word) in chemical technology led to new plastics being created. There isn’t just 1 type of plastic either. There is polystyrene, polythene, polypropylene and polycarbonate to name a few.

It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that the use of plastic became mainstream. One of the main benefits for the use of plastic is, that it is cheaper to mass produce than glass. Therefore, iconic glass bottles from the 1950s started to be phased out and plastic started to take over.

Is Plastic Safer For Storing Food?

The general consensus on that is actually no, glass is safer. Poisonous chemicals can transfer from plastic containers, especially when containing hot food. Also, plastic jars are said to produce 5 times more greenhouse gas emissions than glass.

It does sound pretty horrific and even major corporations are starting to take notice, from beverage companies, to beauty and healthcare companies. Drinking out of glass bottles, especially “fizzy” drinks is becoming “trendy” again and glass bottles are appearing on supermarket shelves again. Even the taste of the drink is said to be better out of glass than plastic.

Plastic bottles are cheaper to produce, costing less than $0.60, they are lighter and easier to transport, easier to move and store. Many people would assume (myself included) that when we recycle our plastic bottles, they are then used to remake plastic bottles. That isn’t the case. Glass, on the other hand can be made from recycled glass. So, which is better?

Are There Benefits To Plastic?

I wear my contact lenses all the time, and they are made from flexible plastics. I really wouldn’t want to wear glass ones! As I was sitting writing my draft, I was using a plastic biro, and currently typing up this blog on my laptop which is encased in plastic. If you drop a bottle of milk on your just cleaned kitchen floor, chances are its not going to smash apart with milk going everywhere. So, using that line of reasoning, plastic has its uses.

Currently the worlds population stands at 7.6 billion people. We need to be mindful of what we use and what we do. We have a responsibility to look after our planet and its seas and creatures, both marine and land. Fishermen, major corporations, retailers and supermarkets are coming to a realisation that things need to change, and are either finding alternative methods of packaging and materials, or cleaning uo what has been left behind.

We have choices,  we just need to make the right ones. We don’t want fish making homes out of discarded plastic that wont degrade for anything between 450-1000 years! We don’t want our “green and pleasant land” to become choked out by plastic and refuse either.

For more information and insight, please go to

http://www.fishingforlitter.org.uk

and to find out more about beach cleaning and even how to volunteer go to

http://www.mcsuk.org

Em

Photos used with kind permission of SeaFish Asset Bank

 

 

 

 

 

 

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