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Plastic waste; the ghost of Christmas past determined to be present for Christmas future.

Plastic waste; the ghost of Christmas past determined to be present for Christmas future.

Plastics are currently dominating the world; let’s face it – we practically worship plastics and their convenience. Whether it be used for bottles, bags, clothing hangers or car dashboards we depend on them.

Although our worship is short lived so therefore plastics are also being thrown away, we are running out of space to accommodate our rubbish. As a result approximately 5.25 trillion pieces of rubbish end up in the ocean alone. If that didn’t blow your mind then to know that YOU could be responsible for 4.46pounds of rubbish in landfill or the ocean per day will certainly blow it for you. That’s the weight of the average, much loved pomeranian dog! Every Christmas across the UK  114,000 tonnes of plastic packaging are disposed of, most of which is sent to landfill. That is the weight of 3.3 million penguins (give or take the odd ‘well fed’ one!).  This plastic packaging will take up to 1000 Christmas’ to decompose, during this time it can find its way to the ocean to create havoc and destruction to out marine environment.

Around one fifth of marine litter is lost at sea by accident. When we dispose of plastic it can travel by wind, water and by people to our oceans, this can be because of careless management or also accident ie simply blowing into the sea. Major rivers around the world carry an estimated 1.15-2.41 million tons of plastic into the sea every year – that’s up to 100,000 rubbish trucks. We have seen the effects of this first hand. Our partner school, Port Duphine in Madagascar have shared with us information from beach cleans that they have undertaken during our partnership which shows that they are experiencing plastic waste washing up on their shores. Coupled with the evidence from our own beach cleans that there is regularly plastic washing up on our shore at our ‘Adopted Spot’ in Carrickfergus we are becoming increasingly concerned that the problem is increasing.

We were visited by the Ulster Wildlife Trust who educated us about the impact of this. The impacts for our oceans can be devastating. We were heartbroken to learn that over 1000,000 marine creatures die each year because of getting tangled up in plastic waste, this was very sad for us to hear as this would be a horrible death for the creatures. Our school overlooks the beautiful Belfast Lough which we have worked hard to clean the shores of. Our school benefits from seagulls and other birds, we were also very sad to learn that each year over 1 million birds die from sea plastic, again this would be a horrible death; literally starving to death with a belly full of plastic, this made us very sad and determined to do something.

This March our school celebrated being a ‘zero waste’ school for six years. To mark this we held a school assembly. During this we reminded the students at Ulidia why recycling plastic and why disposing of it responsibly was very important; however, it was even more important to reuse it or to not use it in the first place. We highlighted to our friends that plastic drink bottles take 450 years to decompose, which makes them reusable for many years, and a waste of their potential to only use once. To help the students in the school to reuse their water bottles the canteen has provided water to refill bottles for everyone to use. Students were given a range of strategies to reduce their waste and most importantly to reduce their consumption of plastic.

We are very proud to be a zero waste school and to work with ISL recycling to maintain this. Over the years we have been visited many times by Joe from ISL and we look forward to his visits. Each piece of waste we throw away, ISL disposes of in a clean, efficient way. The company have designed a recycling system to manage efficiently and responsibly all waste so that none goes to landfill. In order to recycle paper, segregating it is first and then it is all recycled. When recycling plastic, there are more than fourteen different types of plastic, which are all recycled efficiently. Food and organic waste is sent for either composting or anaerobic digestion. Ulidia is proud to ensure that none of our waste goes to landfill.

We live in the Mid and East Council area, which encourages us and our families to recycle all of the household plastic and cardboard packaging there is at home by putting it in the correct bin that has been provided by the council. We are proud to be in Mid and East Antrim council because it has been rated top of all the councils in Northern Ireland for recycling (2017). Mid and East Antrim residents sort recyclable and non recyclable materials at home. The plastic is collected, washed, dried and chipped up to make new products.

These local actions through our local council and through our school encourage us all as individuals to make small changes to have large impacts on our environment. If we continued to follow these throughout our lives we would reduce the impact plastic has on our Christmases future.

Leah McAteer
Ellie Spratt
Leanne Ku
Maciej Swierczewski
Rebecca Telford
Rebekah Moore

References – 

How does plastic end up in the ocean?

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-long-does-it-take-garbage-to-decompose-2878033

https://www.midandeastantrim.gov.uk/news/topped-recycling-league-231117

https://www.wcl.org.uk/uk-christmas-gift-to-the-environment.asp

https://www.midandeastantrim.gov.uk/resident/waste-recycling/bins-and-kerbie-boxes/kerbie-boxes

https://resource.co/article/northern-ireland-recycling-rate-37-cent-12982

Thanks to these groups for visiting us and helping us with our research –

  • Ulster Wildlife Trust
  • ISL Waste Management
  • Port Duphine School Madagascar
  • ADSUM Foundation
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