Plastic bottles are decimating ocean life

BACK TO Ireland to a countryside every bit as lush and lovely as Czech, and a sea as blue as the Med, in the Balearics, if not as warm. 

After three weeks of travelling, visiting family and friends, it feels good to be home. In addition, a small box of the year’s first chanterelle mushrooms awaited me in my mailbox, sent by my German friend in Kerry.

How lucky we are to live in an era of affordable airfares and can assuage our consciences by contributing to ecologically friendly initiatives that help undo the damage caused by our flight.

According to a calculator on the website co2.myclimate.org, every individual on a Cork to London flight results in an extra 0.328 tonnes of CO2 fuel emissions released into the atmosphere.

Terrestrial pollution by plastics as well as celestial pollution by greenhouse gases is the urgent concern of Environmentalists for Europe, an NGO lobbying to have plastic bottles made refillable, or subject to a refundable deposit/return fee of up to 23c, this to reduce the millions that find their way into rivers and seas.

Founded in Britain earlier this year, the group, acronym E4E, is, according to its website, “supported by parliament’s leading environmentalists, Friends of the Earth, The National Farmers Union and The Green Party”.

Its patron is Bill Oddie, one-time comedian now consummate environmentalist. Its site asserts that “It’s because of European protections that our beaches are cleaner, our countryside protected, our air cleaner and our food safer”.

Ironically, the message ends: “Vote remain on 23 June”.

An added irony is the fact that the group’s co-chairman is Stanley Johnson, an apparently sensible, conscientious man, unlike his son Boris the Buffoon, who has clearly blotted the family’s escutcheon with his ever-so-clever, fall-on-his-face, hoist-on-his-own-petard Brexit strategies.

It is uncertain if the organisation, with its proclaimed pro-EU stance, still exists since the success of Bigheaded Boris’s Brexit campaign, driven home by the mendacious message on the side of his campaign bus.

When I phoned its HQ, I was told that there was nobody from E4E in the office.

Some 13bn single-use plastic bottles are annually bought in the UK — 200 bottles per person per year.

Only 50% are recycled: 6.5bn bottles are strewn on streets, verges, parks and beaches, or tossed into culverts, rivers and seas. They are a plague.

Their manufacture squanders valuable fossil fuels and releases CO2 into the skies. The plastic contains bisphenol A (BPA), a cancer-inducing toxin, which may be released if it is scratched. The EU banned BPA from baby bottles in 2011.

Almost unbiodegradable, they will contaminate scenic and natural habitat for decades. Marine turtles, mistaking them for jellyfish, end up with stomachs full of plastic, and starve.

Albatrosses and other sea birds swallow the caps, mistaking them for squid. A recent cleanup of British beaches logged 160 plastic bottles per mile, 43% more than the year before.

When a deposit scheme was initiated in Germany, 98.5% of bottles were returned.

The Scandinavian countries, Iceland, and Estonia have adopted similar schemes. Scotland is considering a total ban.

Ireland should surely take up the running. We are lauded as forerunners in plastic bag and smoking controls.

On our coasts, I see small coves and creeks with tidelines piled high in water bottles and plastic milk containers, the latter often bearing local dairy labels.

Could TetraPak, designers of milk and fruit juice containers, not create “water parks”? The “pure” water (often less healthy than tap water, we’re told) would not be visible, but the container would be more degradable, for sure.

The oceans are, as so often in modern times, the final victims, exploited as infinite sources of protein and bottomless sinks for garbage. Plastic bottles don’t float forever; they break down and sink to the ocean floor.

Dutch researchers have found 70% of discarded plastic ends up on the sea bed. Some 600,000 tonnes of plastic sits at the bottom of the North Sea.

As sea floors becomes smothered, wiping out organisms essential to the marine food chain, national and international bodies fail to curtail production of non-biodegradable plastic.

Ireland has 220m acres (about 880,000sq km) of seabed, an area more than 10 times our landmass.

The Government should surely protect this national asset not only by better controlling the floating monsters that rape its fish stocks, but also the sale of single-use plastic bottles contributing to the annihilation of the organisms upon which they feed.

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