2007 - 2021

Plastic Fantastic

We’re awash with plastics, choking our seas, killing our wildlife, polluting our water and entering our food chain. The problem of plastics in the (sea) food chain is huge. A report earlier this year discovered eight million tonnes of waste plastic ends up in the sea each year. That’s why the Scottish Government announcement to create a Plastic Bottle Return Scheme is a huge breakthrough and testimony to the work of Greenpeace, Have You Got the Bottle, the Marine Conservation Society and others.

The Scottish Government announced yesterday it will introduce a Deposit and Return Scheme for drinks packaging, and hold an international conference focusing on plastics waste in the oceans, together with a new £0.5m beach clean up fund.

The problem – like most environmental issues – is that we are all culpable. We are all complicit in the system of consumption and waste that is destroying our home.

A report earlier this year found:

“Throughout the first half of the 20th century, innovations came thick (and thin) and fast – polystyrene, polyester, PVC, nylon. Soon, they were an inextricable part of everyday life. And then, in 1950, that scourge of the sea arrived: the throwaway polythene bag. In that decade, annual global plastic production reached 5m tonnes; by 2014, it stood at 311m tonnes – shockingly, over 40% of it for single-use packing. Now, plastic’s durability looks less of a boon than it once did. A study in Science Magazine in 2015 estimated that around 8m tonnes of plastic go into the sea each year. And, last year, a report for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (launched in 2010 by the former round-the-world sailor to promote a more circular economy) estimated that, by 2050, the volume of accumulated plastics in the oceans will be greater than that of fish.”

This summer an all-woman crew sailed around Britain in the first continuous plastic sampling visiting Arran Stornoway and Edinburgh to highlight the issue aboard a 72ft challenge yacht Sea Dragon.

“I live by the sea, and every day I see what the waves have brought in – rope, balloons, polystyrene bits, torn bags, cotton bud plastic middles by the million. Nurdles – pre-production plastic particles – are there too, if I get down into the sand to look,” said Arran resident and eXXpedition Round Britain co-mission leader Sue Weaver.

“Every torn fragment of plastic represents terrible danger to the wildlife around our shores. And yet, I ask how can I avoid being part of this polluting of the oceans? Avoiding all single use plastic in everyday life is practically impossible. This is why we are campaigning for changes in policy, at every level – in choosing what we make packaging out of, and what we really need to package, as well as choosing to put deposits on plastic bottles.”

Commenting on Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement today that Scotland will introduce a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, Willie Mackenzie, oceans expert at Greenpeace UK, said:

“Governments are waking up to the frightening scale of ocean plastic pollution and it’s brilliant to see Scotland leading the way in helping to tackle it. On Greenpeace’s recent research expedition around remote Scottish coastlines, plastic bottles and packaging were simply everywhere. A staggering 16 million plastic bottles end up in the environment every day in the UK and deposit return schemes are a great way to make sure more of them are collected and reused.”

‘Today’s announcement by the First Minister is a massive step in stopping plastic pollution, and the result of tireless campaigning by many groups and individuals. With businesses and an overwhelming majority of the public in favour of deposit schemes, the Scottish Government now has a mandate to implement as robust a system as possible to help reduce plastic pollution. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the rest of the UK follows suit.

‘Alongside a deposit return scheme, major soft drinks companies like Coca-Cola – who backed deposit return schemes after being exposed by Greenpeace for lobbying against them – need to seriously rethink their business models. Creating over 100 billion single-use plastic bottles a year is the root of the problem. Drastically reducing their plastic footprint is the only solution. Throwaway plastic causes ocean pollution, and the sooner companies face up to that, the quicker we’ll stem the plastic tide.”

A new report out just today outlines the scale of the problem: “Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.”

This isn’t some soft-consewrvation beach-clean-up issue. This is about the contamination of our food and water.

Dr Dixon of Friends of the Earth Scotland commented:

“Just like the plastic bag charge, a Deposit and Return Scheme will transform attitudes to packaging waste. Cracking down on the tonnes of discarded plastic which litter our beaches will be welcomed by coastal communities and tourists alike, and will help wildlife avoid major hazards to their health.”

The issue now is in what the money raised should be put towards and whether this can mark a sea-change against pollution, waste and consumption in our throw-away society.

This allows you to be the change.


*We really need your support to develop though and we’d like to ask you to support us by donating to us here.

We’ve got big plans to launch our new site, to launch new publishing and events projects, and to extend our platform of writers – but all of this needs your support.

Bella Caledonia remains free (and ad-free) and takes me hundreds of hours a month to research, write, commission and edit. If you value what I do, please consider supporting with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing. GoCardless to set up a small monthly donation to support independent journalism in Scotland.


Go here to subscribe for free and get each Bella article sent to your email
Go here to follow us on Twitter @bellacaledonia
Go here to follow us on Instagram
Go here to join our Facebook Group
Go here to follow us on Spotify
Go here to write for us


Comments (9)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Crubag says:

    It would be good to see a move to reusable containers altogether – which might require overcoming cultural prejudice.

    I think the deposit return for bottles and cans idea is only at an exploratory stage. There are the obvious challenges of how it would work with existing kerbside recycling, whether it would promote a switch to supermarkets over small shops, and the potential trucking in of rUK containers to claim the bounty.

  2. Moira Cochrane says:

    Even more insidious is the plastic milk bottle and plastic water bottle.

  3. Jo says:

    I read something yesterday about the aurora borealis being to blame for causing whales to become disoriented and to die.

    There was no mention of the number of whales whose internal organs had been rendered useless due to the volume of plastic consumed by the whales in oceans contaminated by us. They weren’t killed by the aurora borealis. Plastic killed them. Plastic we put there.

  4. MBC says:

    We’ve had this scheme in Norway for many years now. It also applies to canned drinks. The plastic bottles are far sturdier and are intended to be re-usable. Every retail outlet has a machine that accepts your bottles and gives you a ticket back to a certain value that you can use in the shop. Despite this, as Norway has become wealthier, there are still those who throw away plastic bottles and cans by the side of the road or in street bins where they can’t be recycled. Immigrants short of cash can be seen going through street bins in big cities early in the morning or searching under park benches looking for them so that they ‘earn’ enough to buy themselves some food for the day. You can amass 10 kr worth very quickly and that will by you a skjillingsbolle (thick bun) enough to set you up for the day.

  5. IDL says:

    Well of course it is churlish not to welcome the attempts to reduce this issue but I am not sure I want to agree with this-apart from in the most general sense of being part of an electorate the elected people like Thatcher.
    ” The problem – like most environmental issues – is that we are all culpable. We are all complicit in the system of consumption and waste that is destroying our home”.

    I just think that the consumerism that we all find difficult to avoid has been promoted and activated, not by the majority of people, but by ideologically driven people determined to ignore the (well known to anyone who bothered their arse) environmental degradation because it was an impediment to their profits and income. How long ago is it that we could have implemented a returnable system.Consumerism is like the ‘sweetie ration’ doled out to a compliant childlike electorate.It is a degraded form of existence that militates against human dignity, fairness and an approach to equality.

  6. Willie says:

    Quite frankly unless and until governments address the causes of plastic pollution and legislate accordingly, millions of tonnes of plastic will find its way into the environment.

    But there’s money in producing materials,that we now know are devastating the environment, and quite frankly, there is no real desire or will to change it.

    And to boot, look at some of our citizens in cities like Glasgow ,and the detritus that is just dropped onto the streets, or the litter dumped in our beloved countryside. Our behaviour as citizens says much too.

    Of course, with economic stimulation, legislative intervention, public encouragement, there could be an impetus to clean up, find develop and produce new less polluting materials and packaging.

    Afraid the old cliche of Britain being the dirty man of Europe applies equally to Bonnie Scotland.

  7. Willie says:

    If the Scottish Government is sincere in its desire to clean up Scotland why not consider the initiative of a ” Citizens Clean Up “.

    Through an advertising campaign folks across Scotland could be encouraged to participate in clean up parties.

    Supported with freely available clean up sacks, identified recycling points and technical support through a website-helpline, tens of thousands of folks could be voluntarily encouraged to socially participate in weekends of action where millions of items of detritus could be uplifted.

    And it wouldn’t just be the benefit of removing detritus from the environment. The participation in clean up groups would reinforce the culture of not producing waste in the first place, would encourage better or more considered behaviours,whilst potentially promoting better social cohesion.

    Such an initiative would be relatively cheap. A SG publicity campaign, support from the local authorities who already operate cleaning functions, with the rest coming free.

    Maybe worth a thought . . . .It could certainly be done with a little encouragement.

  8. SleepingDog says:

    I should think that standardization would be a great help, so that containers could be reused for many different contents, and can be mass produced to higher standards. Differences for marketing purposes (like the curvy Coke bottle) create vast inefficiencies.

  9. Graham King says:

    If everyone who throws away plastic packaging recklessly in the street would just throw it instead into the grounds of their local politicians’ homes, we would soon see the required change led by Government.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.