As ever World Environment Day works to raise awareness for protection of the environment with this year focusing on plastic pollution. Single-use plastic products has been raised as a serious concern within society with campaigners spreading their message across social media and news platforms in recent months. These single-plastics are usually straws, cutlery, bottles and cups.
I live in a small village in County Down, Northern Ireland and plastic pollution has a minimal effect on me. I notice the odd bit of rubbish along the hedgerows that people have discarded from their cars, but this does not happen very often, and me and my neighbours tend to clear rubbish from our area rather quickly. My closest town is Warrenpoint and I frequently walk along the promenade, looking down to the shore. It is a beautiful shingle beach looking onto Carlingford Lough. Never have I once thought that this was a littered beach, so I was shocked that when Warrenpoint Port held a beach clean last week that they gathered numerous bags of rubbish. There is even a Board with information, bin bags and rubbish pickers for the public to use along the beach, all provided as part of the 2-minute beach clean project which has been implemented across Ireland and the United Kingdom.
I recently attended a beach clean at Kilkeel which is another local harbour town and is home to the largest fishing fleet within Northern Ireland. Sadly, this beach was very littered. Before I reached the sand, my bin bag had quite a lot of rubbish in it and one of the first things I found was car parts that had been dumped illegally. The issue of illegal dumping seemed to be a very big concern here as we found burnt out car parts and even burnt out mattresses. This was all in the back-beach area, away from the high-water mark. So as we moved closer to the water, it was evident that the rubbish here was litter from beach users including bottles both plastic and glass and food packaging and wrappers. What was shocking was the amount of rubbish that had been washed in by the high tide and this rubbish was specifically from the boats that are around the harbour. We found lots of rope, netting, buoys, buckets, empty petrol containers and a magnitude of rubber gloves. By the end of the beach clean we had over 30 bags ready for the local amenity centre (most of which could be recycled) a fridge, a child’s bike (in perfect condition) and three rubber tyres, one of which was too large for the amenity centre to accept. When talking to other volunteers about what we found, a woman who had been on a previous beach clean in this location told me that there was far more fishing boat equipment found the last time. This is very shocking that the fishermen think it is acceptable to dump this rubbish from their boats even when it will affect the ecosystem and organisms that their business relies upon.
However, with campaigning and increased awareness little steps have been taken to tackle the worlds plastic problems. And so It is encouraging when entering a coffee shop there are biodegradable cups offered and they will even give you money off your purchase if you bring in your own renewable cups. Some bars and nightclubs will no longer give out straws with drinks unless asked for. When in shops you can see that increasing numbers of products are attempting to use less plastic packaging, however plastic is still used and in great demand so there is still a long way to go to reduce plastic pollution.
I am glad that the United Nations chose plastic pollution as the theme for this years World Environment Day as this issue needs to remain a talking point until real action can be achieved internationally.