Our Plastic Footprint

Our modern industrial economy takes a mountain covered with trees, lakes, running streams and transforms it into a mountain of junk, garbage, slime pits, and debris.
Edward Abbey

Litter garbage, rubbish, and trash, whatever you wish to call it, of late we are inundated with it. Here in the Northeast it is as though no one knows the purpose of a wastebasket, litter bin or a dustbin. Perhaps it’s the same everywhere; I believe there is even litter on the summit of Everest! Litter is in our streets, along our roads and motorways, even in our unspoiled wild places. Although unspoiled is now perhaps no longer an apt description of some of these more remote and scenic areas designated as National parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty of which we have many right across the north including: the Lake district, The Yorkshire Dales and moors, the Durham Dales and Teesdale, the Northumbrian national park and coastline. Strewn with litter they are most certainly spoiled.

discarded litter
Litter discarded near the Yorkshire Dales, notice the roll of carpet deliberately dumped.

When my husband, son and I first came to live in the northeast we were shocked at the amount of litter everywhere, but now in recent months it is even more prolific, nothing short of a disgrace. The northeast is often neglected when it comes to tourism which is unfortunate as it is an area of exceptional scenic beauty with some remote and peaceful places steeped in history. Attempts are being made to encourage more tourism in the region. However the shocking state of our towns and particularly highways when it comes to litter really gives an undesirable impression to say the least. Travelling along the A 19, particularly as you head north you are likely to encounter trash which may make you think you have taken a wrong turn and you are heading towards the council’s refuse dump.

litter Embankment A19
Litter strewn on the embankments of the A 19.

On this major road and others in the vicinity, litter is scattered throughout, for mile after mile, on the embankments, festooned in trees, in the hedgerows, scattered in the undergrowth, anywhere, everywhere you can possibly imagine. Plastic bags billow in the wind, a hazard to wildlife and motorists alike; reams of plastic trail like banners flapping in the breeze caught in the branches of tees, a detriment to the environment and an eyesore. Discarded fast food packaging, empty boxes, empty beer cans, plastic bottles, rolls of carpet, even a mop and bucket all carelessly thrown away or deliberately dumped by idle inconsiderate people who have no regard to either the cost to the environment or to the council tax payers who have to pay for the trash to be cleared away, which all too sadly occurs with increasing infrequency.

So many people it seems care little for the environment, it is not just the young and so called drunken yobs whom it seems where blamed in one article recently, but people of every age have some part in this dreadful neglectful, antisocial, uncouth and irresponsible behaviour. Recently in a supermarket car park an elderly lady deliberately discarded her litter, too lazy to put it in her pocket or bag to take home, it was only a tiny piece but it will join countless other carelessly discarded litter. In a city centre a student rummaging in her bag is too idle to chase after the litter that blows away in the breeze from her grasp, she evens stops to watch it drift away. An irresponsible slothful couple dumps their old settee in the ditch near the side of a road in the countryside, marring the splendid array of wild flowers growing there beside the hedgerows rather than take it to the council tip just one mile further along the road. The hill and fell walker discards his empty plastic water bottle amongst a growing pile as others have done at the very same style, too lazy to carry it home, spoiling the beauty of the very environment which has attracted him to walk here.

In addition to this wilful neglect and thoughtlessness or even deliberate behaviour this problem is accentuated by the way no one cares, it’s shocking; it’s never anyone’s responsibility it seems even when litter is dumped on their property or land. The lazy farmer in a field nearby has made no attempt to remove a huge piece of plastic which I can clearly see from our bedroom window, it is a detriment, an eyesore. The neighbour at the end of the village has had litter in his field where his sheep and ponies graze for months and has made no attempt to pick it up. Amid pots of flowers in the local pub there is litter discarded by thoughtless passersby or thrown out of car windows, yet no one removes it. Having gone to great effort to create this impressive floral arrangement it amazes me that no one removes the litter, which surely detracts and mars this display. Apathy it seems holds sway, or is it laziness or are people so used to litter that they no longer notice it or have they simply given up overwhelmed by an increasing avalanche of other people’s rubbish.

It appears to me that few people notice the encroachment of rubbish that is marring our cities, towns, villages and countryside, floating in our rivers and streams, coming in with the tide making our beaches look like a trash heap. Yet to me it is overwhelming, something I notice whenever I am out. I see it just now looking from my bedroom window, there right on the grass verge , an empty cigarette pack, an empty can of beer, a bit of blue paper, a sweet or other wrapping. And this is perhaps one of the cleanest village‘s in the area, at least in comparison.

Why do I hate litter?

Firstly it is simply unsightly, ugly and an eye sore. It is depressing; it makes your environment seem deprived, dilapidated, it makes you think apathy and despair. When areas are constantly littered they are prone to become increasingly more littered as though litter generates more litter, breeding increased apathy and neglect. It devalues your property; ask yourself who wants to live in a dirty littered neighbourhood? I don’t that’s for sure, I don’t even want to drive through one. It discourages tourism, again who wants to spend a holiday in a rubbish dump.

Secondly litter affects your mood. Imagine walking down the street, all you can see is trash, plastic bags, discarded cigarette ends, empty cans, plastic bottles, piles of dog droppings, (although here in the north east I am pleased to say this is far less of a problem than in the south east where we used to live, when I used to dread walking through our village because of the mounds of dog mess) how does that make you feel, not good I would imagine. Now Imagine that instead you walk down a tree lined lane, there are flowers growing in the grass verges, the grass is cut, it is litter free, imagine the difference this has on your mood. In our village the residents association has raised funds to provide containers of plants for the grass verges, a pretty and inexpensive way to liven up a dreary village on a busy road. Yet this attempt to enhance the environment is often spoiled by rubbish carelessly dropped by residents perhaps, but mostly by thoughtless motorists passing through.

Most importantly however rubbish is a hazard to wildlife, animals get trapped in discarded rubbish, field mice can get stuck in bottles or poisoned by its contents and when garbage ends up in rivers and other waterways it pollutes the water supply making it a hazard for aquatic life. Plastic six pack rings entrap fish in the rivers, the oceans and also animals on land; they get caught up in them and cannot free themselves. For example if a bird gets his head or bill trapped he cannot feed, if his feet or wings become ensnared, tangled he cannot free himself and struggles until exhausted he dies or becomes an easy prey for predators. This also applies to discarded fishing tackle as you can read about here on this website: http://www.chad.co.uk/news/local/warning_of_fishing_line_hazard_to_mansfield_and_ashfield_s_wildlife_1_4244910

Broken glass can wound small animals such as foxes, hedgehogs and yes your dog or cat. The rings that open cans of drink can trap a bird’s beak, he cannot free himself nor open his mouth, he starves to death. Cattle, goats, sheep and other grazing animals, after consuming bits of plastic that get mixed up in the grass they eat, can choke and suffocate. Animals both on land and in our waterways are at risk from ingesting or choking on plastic. Turtles sometimes mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, ingest the plastic bag and then suffocate.

Plastic is nonbiodegradable it takes decades to break down and when it does it becomes a part of the soil, it pollutes the soil most likely for generations to come with the possibility of effecting food supply. A similar situation occurs at sea where plastic breaks down even more slowly.

“The amount of plastic in the marine environment is not known and nobody knows how long plastic stays in the environment. Experts in plastic deterioration research maintain it could be hundreds of years. An ordinary plastic six-pack ring, for example, could last 450 years. Because plastic is so slow to break down, especially at sea, the amount floating around in our oceans is continuously increasing.
Save Our Sea Life;

The scourge of Plastic bags

Shocking fact: According to the EU, the average European citizen uses around 500 plastic carrier bags annually, most of which are used only once.

In particular for the reasons cited above I loath plastic bags. In a recent breakfast news segment the question proposed was what can be done to discourage people from using plastic bags. One of the remedies was to make the use of such unfashionable. This however takes time and who wants to leave such an important issue to the fickle whims of fashion. The simple solution is to ban them altogether. Replace them with cloth shopping bags, which are right now very reasonably priced. Shops should not be allowed to issue them. Sales staff at many supermarkets are all too ready to hand them out. Yesterday while shopping the sales assistant made some comment about our bringing our own cloth shopping bag, “what a good idea!” he exclaimed with some surprise. Apparently this was new to him, seemingly in this particular shop everyone too readily accepts these free plastic carrier bags with no thought or hesitation. He did think it a good idea but the fact that this seemed new to him was unsettling. Still there are it seems a significant number of people totally oblivious to the scourge of the plastic bag.

The city of San Francisco has banned plastic bags and the city of York here in the UK is considering similar action. Hopefully more towns and cities will follow suit.

Because we don’t think about future generations, they will never forget us.
Henrik Tikkanen

We have all heard recently the term carbon footprint but what about our plastic foot print. The damage to the environment resulting from the indiscriminate use and improper disposal of plastic is a significant threat. Perhaps as damaging as global warming in its own way; because plastic is non biodegradable it slowly breaks down over decades, and some think as much as 1000 years, for example as already mentioned plastic 6 pack holders takes 450 years to break down, it disintegrates into tiny pieces and as a result will become incorporated within the soil. Rather disturbing don’t you think?

When I was a child everyone had shopping bags. My parents owned a corner shop, which sold groceries and green groceries. There were no carrier bags given to customers, no one expected it, there was none available. Not even for vegetables, most people brought with them an old bag especially for vegetables such as potatoes which were weighed and placed directly into the customer’s bag, there were no repacked vegetables. Brown and white paper bags where given to people who bought cheese, cold meat, cakes and so on, which did not come, wrapped in plastic. The only time you got a carrier bag was if you brought clothing or bed linen and similar items and more often than not the carrier bag was made of paper. Yes of course the indiscriminate unnecessary use of paper brings its own problems which need to be addressed but from the perspective of being biodegradable they are less hazardous to the environment; although if you can manage without it is better to do so. Sometimes it is just habit, we purchase something we expect to receive it wrapped in a bag of some sort. Surely within reason it is easy enough to put any item into a cloth shopping bag. Why do we need a bag when we for instance buy a book, a CD or clothing? Yes it would seem odd at first, old habits die hard but they do die and they need to die if we are to maintain a healthy environment for ourselves, future generations and the other myriad creatures with whom we share this planet.

I wrote this article a few years ago now and little really has changed.

However there is strong possibility that the EU are about to ban the free distribution of plastic bags right across Europe

Free plastic bags may be banned right across Europe:

San Francisco Bans Plastic Bags

“San Francisco led the way in 2007 with the first plastic bag ban in the country, eliminating plastic bags at large grocery storesSince then, several Bay Area cities have adopted stronger policies that ban plastic bags at all types of stores.  Not to be outdone, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted in February to expand the city’s ban to cover all stores and restaurants as well.  On October 1st, plastic bags will be a thing of the past at San Francisco stores and by October 2013, they’ll be gone from restaurants.”

Read More:

Plastic bags are history in San Francisco on October 1st, 2012!


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