The recorded number of animals killed or injured by plastic waste has never been higher, the RSPCA says.
We’ve all seen the pictures: turtles entangled in fishing nets, birds with six-pack rings around their necks; seals and other marine creatures with their limbs and other body parts stuck in various pieces of plastic. And that’s not to mention the countless creatures, large and small, that get sick or die after swallowing large quantities of plastic waste.
Discarded plastics are posing clear and present dangers to untold numbers of animals. That we’ve known. Yet the situation may well be worse than previously thought, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the largest animal welfare charity in the United Kingdom.
The recorded number of animals killed or injured by plastic waste has never been higher, the RSPCA says, citing its own statistics. Last year the animal welfare recorded 579 incidents from England and Wales in which animals were injured or killed by plastic rubbish, up from 473 in 2015. The worst affected have been animals living near the sea, rivers and lakes, which have been swamped by plastic trash in recent decades.
“Every year the RSPCA deals with increasing numbers of mammals, birds and reptiles that have become entangled or affected in some way by discarded plastic,” warns Adam Grogan, head of the wildlife unit at the animal welfare group.
One particularly egregious example recorded by the charity involved a seal that was found to be in distress on Horsey beach in Norfolk last October. The mammal had its head stuck inside a green plastic frisbee, which was cutting into its neck. Without help from people, it would not have survived much longer.
And the situation is bound to get even worse. Each year another 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the planet’s oceans, which is equivalent to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world. In 2013 alone some 299 million tons of plastics were produced, considerably more than in 2008 when global plastic consumption was at around 260 million tons. In coming years production figures will be climbing far higher still.
Meanwhile, marine environments will be much the worse for all the plastic waste deluging them. “From seals with deep infected wounds caused by plastic frisbees cutting into their necks to swans and geese trapped in fishing line or netting, plastic is clearly having an increasing impact on animal welfare,” Grogan says. “Our latest data sadly reflects the wider litter crisis taking place right now across the globe and action is urgently needed. It’s up to every one of us to do our bit in the war against litter.”