Plastic waste: A global issue with local solutions

By Leah, Sophie, Rebekah, Ellie.
Ulidia Integrated College

Plastic waste has become a major issue globally over the past century. In the past year the issue has been highlighted by Blue Planet 2 and also by the release of plastic oceans movie, this has raised the public profile of this horrible global issue. Our group have been aware of the issue for some time due to our beach cleaning activities and have decided to investigate the issue further.

Our Eco team is twinned with another eco team from Port Duphine School in Madagascar. On the week of 19th January we worked together with our friends to carry out a joint litter picking event, we also invited our local friends from Whiteabbey Primary to join in. We held this event at our adopted spot at Carrickfergus Castle in Northern Ireland and Port Duphine bay in Madagascar. During this event we were disappointed to discover that both beaches, on different continents, shared a problem; plastic waste. We found that 90% of the waste collected was plastic. This is above the 83% (ISL Recycling) national average in Northern Ireland.

Right now our environment is getting a little more polluted every day; Greenpeace state that 12 million tonnes enter our oceans each year: this is 1 million tonnes a month. Our beaches are covered in litter and our oceans are full of plastic. A particular problem is Marine litter. This is rubbish and waste that is deliberately or accidentally ending up in the sea. For each square mile of our oceans there are hundreds of plastic bottles and plastic bags. Plastic is the most common manmade object in our seas and you may not think it, but it is killing animals that live in our oceans.

Seabirds are choking to death on marine litter, Fish are getting trapped in plastic bags and fishing nets and they can’t do a thing. Fish are starving to death as their belly is full of indigestible plastic.  Almost 1 million animals die from eating plastic each year. When we place plastic in our oceans by the time it biodegrades not only your children but your grandchildren will likely be gone, but the plastic will still be there. It can take 450 years for a plastic bottle to biodegrade in our oceans (postconsumers).

Where does the blame for this problem lie? Well actually blame can be pinned in a number of places. An individual using plastic everyday increases the global demand for more production of plastic. We’re all guilty from using it and the unfortunate factor is that there isn’t one person who doesn’t use plastic at all in today’s society. Plastic bags are charged at 5p in order to reduce plastic use however, they are still accessible to the public. The simple truth is that plastic is cheap and remains a user friendly cheap packaging source. Big businesses who want to maximise profit therefore are drawn to cheap plastic to package and manufacture their goods.

Media and advertising also share some of the blame. Expensive advertising campaigns promoting plastic products persuade people to buy plastic. There is not enough effort being made to raise public awareness about plastic waste on adverts, Television news channels and newspapers in our opinion.

Governments around the world are contributing to this problem. In many countries the plastic crisis is not an issue of importance for governments and the consequences of causing harm to the environment are not severe enough. Authorities are not promoting awareness of this issue amongst their populations. In many places there is not enough funding for recycling bins.

There are many parties which share the blame for this major global issue, therefore these same groups also share the responsibility to do something about it. The issue cannot be reversed but we all can respond positively to this crisis.

There are things we can do to fix this crisis. We can start by reusing plastic bottles. When at school or work we should use 1 bottle and refill it, this will also help us to save money. When finished with bottles it is important to remember to put them in recycling bins if we really cannot use them again. It is also important not to litter any plastic products we may use as there is a high possibility they may end up in the ocean.

In Ulidia Integrated College, we have had a lot of litter picks at our local adopted spot at Carrickfergus Castle. We have found out firsthand how this plastic issue makes local areas look unsightly as well as creating a hazard for wildlife. We have also found lots of waste which was branded with McDonald’s logo so we were very pleased to find out that McDonalds have pledged to ensure that all packaging will be from recycled sources by 2025 (Independent).

At Ulidia Integrated College we want to be a positive example for our local community. We are proud to be the first school in Northern Ireland to be zero waste, and to date the only post primary school to hold this status. All the waste from our school is recycled, or composted. We have achieved this by working with ISL Recycling. We have has visits from ISL and have learnt all about how easy it is to reduce our waste. We are very proud to work with ISL Recycling to reduce our litter and to lead the way in our local community. The Marine Litter Crisis has the potential to devastate our oceans and our environment, however we can stop this. The question is, are you willing to follow us and play your part?

https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/plastic-end-ocean/

https://www.postconsumers.com/2011/10/31/how-long-does-it-take-a-plastic-bottle-to-biodegrade/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/mcdonalds-packaging-sustainable-cut-renewable-recycling-latte-levy-a8162231.html

http://islwastemanagement.co.uk/case-studies/ulidia-college-zero-waste-isl/

http://islwastemanagement.co.uk/isl-blog/plastic-beaches-northern-ireland/

Joint litter pick with Port Duphine School, Madagascar.

Shanna Rice, Ulster Wildlife Trust, Marine Waste (Presentation and QA session)