As I returned from a thoroughly invigorating and freezing sea swim after Christmas, a length of green plastic material intertwined with a clump of seaweed on Silver strand beach in Galway caught my eye.
The following day a single empty disposable coffee cup sitting as if somebody had carefully positioned it on a seat at Blackrock swimming area in Galway jumped out at me.
As isolated and unique occurrences they could be considered harmless.
However they are neither isolated or harmless.
Plastic is about to become a much larger problem than it currently is.
Britain currently ships 500,000 tonnes of plastic to China every year, but due to a Chinese import ban this plastic has to find another home. The Chinese have put this ban in place in a drive to reduce environmental contamination.
We already know there is more plastic in the sea by mass than fish. With a further 500,000t earmarked for either incineration or landfill in the UK alone, we are in real danger of drowning in our own waste.
The lining of disposable coffee cups is plastic and despite being led to believe these cups are recyclable, they are not. 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are dumped every year in the UK, that is enough to stretch around the world five and half a times! See the recent Guardian article.
There is discussion in the UK of a disposable coffee cup levy similar to the plastic bag charge. The result of the plastic bag levy was an 85% decrease in the use of disposable single use plastic bags overnight, many people now bring their own.
Manufacturers, retailers and us the consumers all have a responsibility to deal with these issues.
Smaller retailers fear for their livelihood and larger retailers fear for loss of sales and damage to their profit margins and so a voluntary code of practice will not happen fast enough or in my opinion be large enough to have an impact.
Retailers and manufacturers have an obligation to be responsible for their packaging.
We are very serious about it and have been since the we started our organic farm in 2006.
We have people working in our packing shed that painstakingly flatten out the brown paper bags that we recollect from your doorsteps each week. It would be much cheaper and quicker to use new bags, but we don't. Collecting the used egg boxes on the scale we operate on is difficult, we have to take time, pay people to separate them and get them back to John our organic egg farmer, but we do it.
It costs and it takes effort, it would be much easier just to throw our used packaging away.
Until this cost disparity between disposable and reusable is addressed, disposable will continue to happen. It could be dealt with swiftly and efficiently by government action.
I love the sea and I love our planet and it is encouraging to see mainstream discussion of potential solutions to these issues of waste materials that are destroying our ecosystems and contributing to global warming.
I am impatient though, it may have something to do with the entrepreneurial spirit, but I want to see all the change now, today. I can't wait, and I don' think our planet can wait either.
PS I wrote about buying a fizzy water maker some months, back and several people have been asking about the make. It was a Sodastream Jet black, bought in Argos for €54.99. You bring the gas canisters back and they refill them. One gas canister makes 60L of fizzy water and costs €20, this alone saves a mountain of plastic every year.