In the wake of the IPCC’s stark warning to governments worldwide about pollution and climate change, a plastic bottle dating back 47 years has been found on a beach in Somerset.
The Fairy Liquid bottle is marked with a pre-decimalisation price, meaning it was manufactured some time before 1971. It was found on Brean Beach, along with 300-400 tonnes of plastic waste and other assorted rubbish, and was described by Burnham Coastguard as looking “almost new”.
Brean and its neighbouring town Burnham-on-Sea have both suffered from high levels of plastic pollution on their beaches. As with most coastal towns relying largely on tourism, beach cleanliness and water quality are ongoing local concerns.
Plastic waste: an ongoing concern
Plastic waste has been highlighted as a particular problem affecting the environment, with some types of plastics taking up to 450 years to break down. The ubiquity of plastics and the lack of widespread recycling – only a third of plastic packaging is recycled after use – has led to a serious global waste problem. Over eight million tonnes of plastic waste are dumped in the world’s oceans every year.
Infinitesimal plastic microfibres have been found in a number of foods, including shellfish, sugar and table salt. Wildlife are also directly affected, as they can become tangled in plastic waste or mistake it for food: Surfers Against Sewage report 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed annually by ingesting or becoming trapped in plastic packaging.
In the absence of any official solution to the problem, citizens have begun to take the matter into their own hands, setting up litter-picking and beach-cleaning groups to remove debris from their neighbourhoods. More wide-reaching schemes to address plastic waste have been proposed and trialled, including deposit return schemes, reverse vending machines, and the eventual phasing out of plastics in favour of more environmentally friendly biodegradable materials.