Plastic bottles comprise as much as 14% of visible litter in the continent’s freshwater sources.
Forget plastic bags. They aren’t the most common form of plastic waste in Europe. Plastic bottles are.
We need to drink plenty of water each day and much of our liquid sustenance comes in the form of mineral water and soft drinks sold in plastic bottles. The trouble is that many of those bottles end up being dumped whereupon they get washed up in rivers around Europe. From there they then float their way down to the oceans where they then add to the already colossal amounts of plastic waste sloshing around in the planet’s seas.
In fact, according to the nonprofit Earthwatch Europe, which has just released a new study on the nature of plastic pollution in Europe, plastic bottles comprise as much as 14% of visible litter in the continent’s waterways. Coming at second place are plastic food wrappers (12%), followed by discarded cigarette butts (9%). Next on the list are plastic food containers (6%), cotton-bud sticks (5%), and takeaway cups (4%).
Plastic bags, meanwhile, account for only 1% of visible waste in European freshwater sources. The reason, Earthwatch says, is that many European countries have enacted policies aimed at curtailing the use of plastic bags, such as through charging customers for them in shops. Similar policies will need to be enacted or enforced to reduce the vast amounts of plastic litter.
U.K. government figures show that in England alone 4.7 billion plastic straws and 1.8 billion cotton buds with plastic stems are used every year with millions upon millions of these small items winding up as litter. Globally, the situation is hardly better. Major rivers worldwide contaminated by plastic waste discharge anywhere between 1.15 million tons and 2.41 million tons of plastic rubbish into the sea each year. That’s the equivalent of 100,000 rubbish trucks emptying their contents into the sea.
And once plastic waste ends up in rivers, lakes and seas, it is usually a Herculean task to collect them for recycling if it can be done at all.
“The products we buy every day are contributing to the problem of ocean plastic,” Jo Ruxton, chief executive of Plastic Oceans UK, told The Guardian newspaper. “Our discarded plastic enters rivers from litter generated by our on-the-go lifestyle and items we flush down toilets,” Ruxton added. “This throwaway approach is having much more serious consequences.”