Leading article: Plastic death on the seas

Share
Related Topics

The discovery of another huge concentration of rubbish, this one in the Atlantic and comparable in size to the now notorious "Great Pacific Garbage Patch", is a stark reminder of how, despite the warnings of ecologists that have been ringing in our ears for decades, we continue to throw away more and more plastic, regardless of the consequences.

As the new study revealing the existence of this concentration points out, between 1976 and 2008 the amount of plastic thrown out worldwide increased by 500 per cent. That is a little abstract, so let us bring it down to the level of personal behaviour. In 1976 milk was still delivered in recyclable glass bottles; we washed ourselves with bars of soap, and if we went to a café for coffee or tea, we drank it out of ceramic cups. People went to the shops with what were called shopping bags, sometimes very practically equipped with wheels.

Very few of us probably sang hallelujah on the day when the last dairy float was retired or shower gel gave soap the elbow, and the movement to limit the use of plastic bags in supermarkets has gained some ground in recent years. But year after year it has served the interests of our commercial masters to get us to use and then throw away more and more plastic, and the resistance we have collectively put up has been pathetic. The great Atlantic garbage patch is a floating rebuke to our consciences.

The evil consequences of these massive concentrations are legion, and include the entanglement of marine fauna and its ingestion by seabirds and marine organisms ranging from plankton up to sea mammals. If we try to imagine these seaborne rubbish dumps we probably visualise a floating slum of empty shampoo bottles and discarded supermarket bags. In fact the 64,000 pieces of plastic caught in plankton nets by researchers at 6,100 different locations in the Atlantic were all very tiny, but that does not make them any less damaging when swallowed by a seagull or a turtle.

There are still many unknowns for the researchers to tease out: why has the surface concentration not actually increased in the past 22 years, despite the massive increase in the amount thrown out? Where is the new stuff ending up? Can we expect the day when another team locates a dump of sunken plastic on the ocean floor? In the meantime the message from the Atlantic is simple: the war against plastic is being lost. The waste remains, and kills.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This exciting startup disruptin...

Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

£25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Magazine Designer

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This London based publishing co...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Negotiator - OTE £30,000+

£13500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Previous experience is benefici...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A young person in the UK is now twice as likely to be poor as a pensioner  

Britain is no country for the young – in jobs, income or housing

Ben Chu
LaGuardia Airport: a relic from a different, gentler age  

New York's LaGuardia Airport to be rebuilt: It could become the best gateway to America

Simon Calder
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash