The eminent primatologist Jane Goodall recently visited her eponymous sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees in Ngamba Island, Uganda. She asked after one of her beloved chimpanzees – yes, even the great researcher does have favourites. She was devastated to hear that it had died. She was horrified when she learned how the chimpanzee had died – drinking from a discarded plastic detergent bottle that the chimp had picked up from the lakeshore.

This happened in Uganda, thousands of miles away. It wouldn’t happen on our shores I hear the cynical cry. Yet in January, thousands of pink plastic bottles containing washing up liquid were washed up on the beaches of Cornwall. The Marine Conservation Society states that plastic litter on the UK’s beaches has increased by 140% since 1994.

And it is not just our beaches. Every day in the UK, 35 million plastic bottles are used and discarded. Almost half of these are not recycled and many of them end up in our oceans – killing marine life and threatening fragile ecosystems.

Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales, and other marine mammals and more than one million seabirds die each year from ocean pollution and ingestion or entanglement in marine debris. Most plastic pollution reaches the seas via rivers originating from landfills and other urban sources. In the Pacific Ocean, the North Pacific Gyre is home to the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, a huge area that is almost three times the size of the UK.

Bravo for Jeremy Paxman for being so forthright and outspoken in today’s Daily Mail – I never thought I would say that about either Paxman or the Mail – about our plastic pollution problem and the lack of action from both the drinks industry and government on this issue. Paxman wrote, “When asked about trying to change attitudes by introducing a deposit scheme for plastic bottles, he (Lord Gardiner) said the Government had looked into the idea and decided it would be ‘an expensive exercise’. More expensive, presumably, than altering the landscape, poisoning wildlife and making the world uglier.

It is high time that mealy-mouthed ministers took themselves off for a little more refreshment, in the hope that it might give them the guts to tell the soft drinks industry that some things matter more than the bottom line of the balance sheets of multinational corporations.”

Paxman is not the first to expound this message. A profound truth lies behind the Cree Indian proverb “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish caught will we realise we cannot eat money.”

Over seventy years ago Franklin D Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.” And still we do nothing.

It is time for more of us to stand up and ensure our voice is heard.
This is how you can help:

  • Carry a reusable water bottle with you
  • Deposit return schemes work by placing a small deposit on a plastic bottle, which you get back when you return it.

Thanks for reading

Justin Wateridge

Author: Justin Wateridge