Blue Planet 2 has recently given new insight at what single use plastics such as your straw that accompanies your pint of fun, or the coffee cup you get from G12, is doing to our oceans and their wildlife. It is estimated that we use 8.5 billion plastic straws every year, that’s a lot of pints of fun! And over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste every year. But is it really worth the damage it is doing to our environment?
Plastics take hundreds of years to decompose and not only do they cause harm to animals they’re washing up and destroying beautiful beaches all around the world. Birds such as albatrosses more often than not, mistake plastic for food and the ingestion can lead to their death through harmful edges puncturing their insides or even suffocation in attempts to regurgitate harmful plastics. Perhaps even more sadly albatross mothers tend to feed their offspring on plastic as well. Making this a conservation threat to entire species including dolphins, turtles and puffins to name a few others. Even as plastics begin to degrade they just become smaller and will never completely breakdown. These are known as microplastics that can be found in exfoliates of face washes! These contribute to high levels of chemical contamination in the seas and are beginning to effect smaller species too. For example, barnacles are known as filter feeders that feed by straining suspended matter and food particles from water. Due to the contaminated seas this means that they are now taking in tiny microparticles of plastic too. Even species as small as zooplankton, only a few micrometers wide and invisible to the human eye are vulnerable. These smaller animals are foundations of food chains and therefore what effects them has a knock-on effect up the chain to all marine life. With whales most common food source being plankton. Not only is this effecting our marine life but will eventually affect us from the fish we are eating. This is quite clearly a global issue that needs a global solution. So, what are we doing about it?
This is a very topical issue currently with the UK set to ban all sales of plastic straws, cotton buds and single use plastics form the country as early as next year. Prime Minister Theresa May announce that “Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world, which is why protecting the marine environment is central to our agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting” and claims that the newly proposed ban follows the successful implementation of a plastic bag charge and microbeads ban. Both of which produced noticeable decreases in plastic in UK’s waters. This saw the use of single use plastic bags drop by 90%.
Not only this we have seen a lot of change with larger food chains and coffee shops jumping on-board with new incentives to ban or stop the use of plastics. These include McDonald’s who are trying out paper straws and keeping old ones behind the counters. Wetherspoons of which there are nearly 900 of around the country, stopped using plastic straws at the beginning of this year and instead are using biodegradable straws only on request. Weatherspoons alone are no longer contributing 70 million straws to plastic waste. Coffee shops now offer discounted prices to people using their own reusable cup with Pret-a-Manger being the most competitive with a 50p discount followed by Starbucks and Costa with a 25p discount. What student doesn’t love a discount! Even our own Glasgow Uni are getting on board with their own branded keepcups purchased from hospitality services on campus at £8.49. This gives you a free drink on purchased and a reduced cost every time you use it!
So, the moral of the story is, drink your pint of fun without a straw, get your revision break coffee with a reusable cup and take a non-plastic bag to get your late-night snacks. Easy!
-Lucy Rawbone, Science and Technology Editor