Article for the Dawlish Gazette for Dawlish Against Plastic by Vanessa Ryley 23.11.2020

Although beach cleaning is helpful in keeping our local environment looking a little cleaner, it is obviously not the answer to the pollution in our oceans and the continuing slaughter of marine life caused by ingesting plastic or getting caught up in it.

However, beach cleaning is important in the fight to raise awareness of the environmental problems facing us. In recent months, the public consciousness has been necessarily focussed on health and well-being. Unfortunately, this seems to have led to a greater consumption of single use items of all sorts.

I have witnessed that the global pandemic has resulted in a rush to use single use plastic PPE, particularly masks, in the belief that this is safer. I have also seen that many people wear these masks wrongly, letting them fall well below the nose or wearing them inside out. Some people wear them so many times that they are ineffective anyway.

It is inevitable that many of these masks and other single use items are carelessly discarded and end up in the environment ready to be washed down the drain to join everything else that arrives in the ocean daily.

This is so sad, especially when you consider that washable, 3 layered masks have been shown to capture up to 80% of particles and the best ones still capture 72% after five washes. The government advice positively encourages the use of reusable fabric masks for general use in the community. Badly fitting disposable masks are more expensive and less effective, so experts generally consider that they do not protect against Covid 19.

The flow of plastic into the ocean is expected to triple by 2040 if current trends continue. This is up to 29 million tonnes a year, which is equivalent to 50kg for every metre of coastline in the world. The result would be that plastic would outweigh sea life – a very frightening thought. Once in the sea plastic gradually breaks down into microplastics, is ingested by sea life and thereby enters the food chain. We do not know yet what effect this has on our health, but my bet is, it is probably not a positive one.

Unfortunately, the UN has concluded that the existing legal framework for dealing with plastic waste is fragmented and ineffective.

However, there is a move by the UN to create a new global treaty to tackle plastic pollution and two thirds of member states are open to this idea. The US, one of the biggest per capita waste producers, has not yet signalled willingness for involvement in this. Zac Goldsmith, UK minister for the environment, has recently decided to back the global initiative.

Without global agreement it will be impossible to stem the tide of plastic waste. Governments must seriously consider how this can be tackled so that a dramatic reduction in plastic waste is achieved in a relatively short period of time. Plastic pollution and climate change are not separate issues, and must be tackled effectively, if we are to change the predicted outcomes for the planet. Although more people are demonstrating awareness of the plastic pollution problem there are many who are still resistant to the idea that there really is a crisis, so we have a long road to travel.

With Christmas coming you might like to go to our Facebook page, Dawlish Against Plastic, where you will find videos featuring our young ambassador, Katherine giving lots of ideas for a plastic free Christmas.

We wish you a happy time this Christmas and New Year.