The world is in the middle of a plastic pandemic. The primary cause of the plastic pandemic are the producers, the petrochemical industry. The plastic pandemic merits being called a pandemic firstly because it is indeed global and secondly because plastic is made from toxic chemicals and is a danger to life on Earth.
Governments do not actually plan and implement policy. They are in fact totally reactive. I will grant that politicians are quite clever in manipulating events to their personal advantage and in making us think that whatever good happens is to their credit. This notwithstanding, it is clear that the tide of local and, indeed, world events is not in the hands of Governments but in the hands of people.
It all works from the bottom up. It is employees and entrepreneurs who create the output and wealth of nations from which we all thrive. It is people who pay taxes. It is the activity of people that pushes Governments to implement infrastructural projects. It is politicians who start wars but it is people who die in wars. It is people who create society with its social trends and behaviours. No country has a foreign policy, only opportunistic business lobbies and political elites. Finally, it is people who elect Governments.Plastic is everywhere, including in the sea and its fish, in the soil and its plants, in our food and in us. It’s a global pandemic that needs to be dealt with urgently.
It is no different when it comes to Nature. It is people who are destroying the natural world. Governments by far and large are playing catch-up trying to please voters on the one hand and business lobbies on the other. Business lobbies are profiting from the plastic pandemic and are therefore part of the problem. The plastic pandemic is therefore up to us to fix, for better or for worse.
Plastic pollution is as critical an issue as climate change. We are forced to deal with this plastic pollution pandemic with urgency as it has now reached pandemic proportions. It is estimated that there was the equivalent of 200 million garbage-truck-loads of plastic in the oceans and landfills at end 2015 and that this will become the equivalent of 500 million garbage-truck-loads by 2050. This plastic is breaking up into millions of trillions of fibres and micro pieces contaminating literally everything – water, soil, plants, animals, fish and us.
Plastic waste is killing wildlife by the millions annually and has entered our food chain. Results of new studies show that micro plastic is present in sea salt tested in Europe, China and the US. Every product that comes from the seas and oceans would appear to be contaminated with toxic plastic ingredients. This is a danger to our health and the World Health Organisation should declare a plastic pandemic.
Plastic is a durable and useful material and in an ideal world it would only be used for long life products and 100% recycled. That is not the case. 40% to 50% of the plastic produced is for single use. The Mediterranean Sea has an estimated 500 billion pieces of plastic in it and plastic has been washing up on Malta’s shores and beaches in greater quantities in the last decade. Malta has also to deal with garbage in our sea that is coming from the other 20 countries bordering the Mediterranean. Over 90% of the garbage in the sea is plastic.
Next time you go to a sandy beach you will notice that the plastic in the sand is now visible all over the beach. Some of it is littering by bathers but most is what is washed ashore by the sea currents. On land, plastic trash is everywhere. Look and you will see for yourself.
The most conspicuous of single use packaging is the plastic bottle. By my own rough and ready estimate in Malta we consume and dispose of 250,000 to 300,000 plastic water bottles daily. That is around 100 million bottles annually. Much of this must be ending up in the natural environment and landfills. Remember, plastic in landfills leaches into ground water and the sea and this is where we get our drinking water.
We pay government to provide potable water. I would like the Minister for Energy and Water Management and the Chairman of the Water Services Corporation to weigh in on this discussion and explain to us why tap water is not good enough to drink. If it is in fact good enough, then we must all be daft. Water in bottles costs about 100 times more than water out of the tap.
The chart shows where the plastic waste in the sea is coming from. Ultimately it comes from us, humans. The result of the referendum on spring hunting in Malta has shown us that around 214,000 of the Maltese adults passively or actively believe that we can and should destroy nature. If we add to this another 100,000 tourists and expatriates, who are here today and gone tomorrow, give a few exceptions, we get over 300,000 adult people in Malta who are mostly happy to live in a barren landscape devoid of any other life form, apart from human.
There is an attempt to legitimise hunting as a sport, now even as a academic endeavour. Please, it is about killing wildlife, you know it, we know it. Let’s not waste time pretending otherwise. What an amazing spectacle and tourist attraction it would be to witness bird migrations over Malta. Hunters and trappers are an easy target when it comes to pointing the finger at the villain of the story. Let us not get too self-righteous though as we collectively kill more wildlife, cause more suffering to animals and destroy more habitat and biodiversity with our lifestyle and diet, than the hunters and trappers do with their guns and nets.
Then there is us, 124,000 people who voted to stop spring hunting in Malta and who have some measure of understanding that we all form part of the web of life that we call nature. We see that there is a limited amount of air, water and natural life on this planet of ours and therefore appreciate that if we continue to degrade nature and kill other life forms, nature’s life support system will one day collapse. This is likely to happen in our children’s and grandchildren’s lifetime.
As we cause the extinction of other species, most species will become extinct before us and a few will survive us. We live in nature. Humanity is on the extinction list as well.
There is no time left for discussion, only action. Each one of us needs to decide on which side we stand. Politicians should, like normal human beings, think about what future they want for their families. If they do not care about their own children, they will certainly care about votes and that at least 124,000 people in Malta will be voting to see a dramatic move away from plastics and expect actions to protect and restore nature.
The battle to save the natural world has been fought by too few for too long. It is time for you and me to join the ranks of the few as what is being destroyed is our Earth, our home. What we are killing to extinction are species with whom we have shared hundreds of millions of years of evolution and without whom, we would not exist today and cannot survive. We owe the natural world and all other life forms a debt of allegiance.
Article published in the Sunday Times of Malta, 1st October 2017
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