Someone Else’s Problem?

‘A plastic pollution free world is not a choice but a commitment to life – a commitment to the next generation.’

Amit Ray; Indian Author and Spiritual Master

We make no apologies this week for focussing on a topic that we have highlighted numerous times in the past. It’s a subject that should be of concern to every person on the planet; simply because of the fact that almost without exception, every human being on Earth carries responsibility. We are talking about plastic pollution, and when you look at the numbers involved it’s enough to jolt every sensible, caring person.

And sensible and caring is what we need to focus on. Douglas Adams, the author of the acclaimed Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series of novels, wrote about a concept that he called a SEP. SEP’s were invisible to most human’s eyes for one simple reason: they didn’t matter. A SEP was Someone Else’s Problem, and if you are confronted with a SEP, why bother even recognising it, or even seeing it? (Adam’s had a spaceship land on Lord’s cricket ground – it was clearly someone else’s problem, so the crowd just ignored it.) This is the plastic mindset. People toss out plastic items as if they were going to vanish like paper or cardboard. They don’t. Plastic, even the thinnest of cling foils, lasts for hundreds of years; the only thing that changes is the state it is in. Mega-plastics become macro-plastics which degrade into micro-plastics, or nurdles. It’s these tiny nodules that end up doing the most damage, despite their size: they are ingested by living creatures – mainly marine life, but humans are also getting their unfair share – and plastic is decidedly non-nutritious. Its chemicals are deadly in the long run.

Since plastics first started to be manufactured in bulk in the early 1950’s, around 7 billion tonnes has been produced. Of this staggering amount, about 12% has been incinerated (polluting the atmosphere) and another 9% has been recycled. Only 9%! So a quick calculation will show that lurking around our planet in 2021 is around 4.83 billion tonnes of useless plastic waste. In our waterways, landfills, oceans, living areas…doing nothing except polluting. What else needs to be done to show the earthlings that this is not a SEP? It won’t go away, it won’t reduce, it won’t stop growing as a nightmare until everyone takes responsibility.

At Waterfront Charters we live for the ocean. It is our working environment, our playground, our source of learning, our wildlife sanctuary, our love. When we see what is happening to the ocean and its inhabitants it’s heart-breaking. Each year around 9 million tonnes more plastic waste ends up in our oceans, accumulating to a current estimate of close to 100 million tonnes just floating around. The effect on marine life happens on many levels; from ingesting the nurdles as referenced above, to entanglement in larger debris and exposure to toxins released by chemical reactions. Here’s a statistic that should scare the living daylights out of every human who is alive: at this rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans by weight than there will be fish. Think about that. Plastic fish and chips, anyone?

Our Waterfront Charters crews take a great deal of responsibility when it comes to keeping our small portion of the Atlantic Ocean in pristine condition. We don’t cause the pollution: we try to teach all who board our vessels about the dangers – to us it’s not a SEP. It’s our problem too, and we do whatever it takes to clean up after the less considerate members of the public. The waste that we scoop up off the surface of the ocean is small in comparison to the global problem, but the way we see it is this: if every human started recycling as well as picking up the plastic waste they encounter, we could start to reverse the trend. 400 million tonnes of plastic is manufactured each year worldwide: if we can start recycling at a sustainable rate the amount of new plastic that is made annually will continue to reduce. It’s not rocket science; all it needs is education, application and a change of mindset. Plastic is not a SEP. It is a blight on a beautiful planet, and is hastening the end of countless species of creatures. We humans may be at the top of the food chain, but the strange thing about any chain is that it is only as strong as its weakest link. That weakest link may be plankton in our chain, but before long the plastic nurdles will have replaced this vital source of nutrition and seafood, as we know it now, will become extinct as each subsequent link of the chain loses nutrition. How long before the bulk of the rapidly multiplying human race goes the same way without food?

A Waterfront Charters cruise is the perfect way to remind ourselves of what is really important on this amazing planet. When you see the incredible sea life that is threatened, the beautiful beaches that will end up covered with litter, the ocean itself that will potentially end up looking like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (which itself increases tenfold each decade) you will know that plastic pollution is not a SEP. Reduce, reuse, recycle isn’t just a vague shibboleth: we all need to take action – now.