We are living in a material World: Plastic is a global issue but we can solve the issue through local actions

By Karl
Ulidia Integrated College, Carrickfergus

What do a plastic cup, a toothbrush, and facial scrub have in common? We are all guilty from using it. In fact, there isn’t a single person who doesn’t use it in today’s society. The bird killing, fish strangling, man-made atrocity; plastic.

I have been in the Eco team in my school for five years now, in that time I have been on about 20 beach cleans with the team. I have been disappointed and angered to witness a huge increase in plastic in my local beach. I have noticed that the majority of the waste that I have collected has been plastic. ISL Recycling say that 28% of waste on our beaches in Northern Ireland is plastic waste; I agree with this fact and think that on Carrickfergus shore there may even be a higher percentage of plastic waste.

What exactly is plastic? Plastics are taken from natural materials found all around us, such as oil, gas, coal, minerals and plants too. Plastic is used by businesses as packaging, and also as an integral part of the produce in things such as face creams and body washes.

Why is plastic so bad? Plastic is harmful to our environment as it takes hundreds, or even thousands of years to disintegrate. It’s sorrowful and disheartening to believe that 33% of all plastics are only used once, such as straws or bottle caps. Another shocking statistic is that plastic can actually affect our health, as the toxic chemicals that are in the plastic can be found on our skin and even in our blood! The effects from this are cancers, impaired immunity, birth defects and many other health issues. When working with Miss Rice from Ulster Wildlife Trust I learnt that there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish in my future; this is really disappointing. When I grow up I want to take my children to beaches to build sandcastles not to wade through plastic waste.

Amazingly, approximately one million seabirds are killed every year due to plastic (Ulster Wildlife Trust Powerpoint Talk given at Ulidia). They die by choking on the six pack plastic when they get caught around their necks and also by mistaking bottle caps as food due to their colourful appearance, sometimes using it to create their nests, then their chicks eat it and die. When watching ‘message in the waves’ on YouTube I was really sad to see the Albatross birds and the plastic in their stomachs. I have to be honest; I didn’t realise that I was part of the problem until I saw the collections of plastic on that beach, there was straws and toothbrushes, I use a toothbrush every day and I might even be part of this problem. This is a problem that I don’t want to be part of.

It’s an estimation of truly horrific significance that an enormous 1 million seabirds die each year due to something we as humans alone have created. We live in an era where as we move forward in the world with new inventions and discoveries, we move backwards in caring for our environment.

Within our oceans, plastic debris takes over zooplankton on a ratio of 36:1 (Ulster Wildlife Trust Powerpoint talk at Ulidia), meaning that if you were to go for a walk on a beach and find a bottle cap, imagine 36 bottle caps compared to one, single, microscopic zooplankton. Over in the United States of America, they bin more than 30 million tons of plastic per year and sadly only 8% is recycled, while the other 92% gets put into landfills, burned or becomes litter. Recent research has found that plastic is now even entering our food chain, with plankton eating the plastic thus entering their bodies and overtaking the algae. Small fish then eat the plankton, which in turn get are consumed by larger fish and this continues up the food chain until it gets to the point where it ends up on your dinner plate. Therefore we are actually harmful ourselves. This makes me glad that I go to Ulidia Integrated College as we are the only post primary school in Northern Ireland. I am proud that as an eco team at Ulidia we have ensured that our school is doing what it can to reduce the amount of plastic that we contribute to the problem.

My school works with ISL recycling in Mallusk to ensure that none of the waste from our school goes into landfill. Waste that goes into landfill can make its way into the ocean through lots of different ways including simply blowing away into the ocean. I also found out that plastic is being directly washed into the ocean through our drainage system when we use beauty produces which have micro beads in them. ISL recycling take the waste from my school and ensure that it is all recycled or reused. I am proud to attend a zero waste school.

So what can we all do as consumers in today’s modern society? We can all take positive actions to reduce the plastic that we use as consumers. When we are drinking our juice we should not use a plastic straw; we should use a metal straw or no straw at all – do we really need to use straws? We should all have a reusable cup that we keep in our cars or in our handbag that we use when we want a take away hot beverage, then we will not need a disposable cup. These actions are small, and do not impact on our enjoyment of coffee or juice but they do make an impact on our global environment that we all share.

Maybe next time you drink from a straw, or drink from a plastic bottle and litter it, remember it’ll be your fault when it reaches the food chain and ends up in your fish-fingers, or when the decrease in seabird numbers reaches crisis point.





Ulster Wildlife Trust Powerpoint talk, given by Shanna Rice at Ulidia Integrated College.

Joint litter pick with Port Duphine School, Madagascar.