A few months ago, we received an email from Kimcote and Walton Women’s Institute, asking if anyone would be able to give them a talk about plastic pollution. Kelly Swann volunteered and she went to visit their group on 7th February.
Kelly introduced her talk by explaining that her interest in plastic pollution dates back to a holiday in Greece in the 1990s, when she stayed near a nesting site for loggerhead turtles and saw them swimming in the sea. She was captivated and has been interested in these beautiful creatures ever since. So when she heard about turtles dying as a result of plastic pollution, she immediately began to find out more.
Plastic was invented in 1862 but it was not until the Second World War that the industry really began to grow, as plastics were used for everything from military vehicles to radar insulation. After the war, the industry needed new consumers and they turned to the domestic market. Plastic was considered a miracle material at this time because it could be moulded into any shape, was easily mass-produced, it was cheap and it was waterproof. It was also non-biodegradable and we have only recently started to understand what that means for our environment.
Nearly all of the plastic ever created is still in existence and Greenpeace reveal that an estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans every year, which is a truck load of rubbish every minute. Some of this plastic has collected in the North Pacific Gyre between Alaska and Russia, a floating garbage patch that is twice the size of Texas.
Kelly spent some time explaining the effect that plastic pollution is having on sea life. For example, the National Geographic recently reported that a pilot whale had died in Thailand and was found to have 80 plastic shopping bags in its stomach, effectively causing it to starve to death. Seabirds have also been affected and one study found that 90% have got plastic in their stomachs. Animals often cannot tell the difference between small pieces of plastic and their normal food and so they eat rubbish and feed it to their young by mistake.
The meeting ended with tea and biscuits and more informal conversation about what we can all do. Many of the women present had already started to make changes and had their own tips about plastic-free teabags and other items. Thank you to Kimcote and Walton WI for taking an interest in this important issue!
If you're interested in what you can do to reduce your use of plastic, national Friends of the Earth have just launched a #DrasticOnPlastic Timer Challenge.