The UK’s top supermarkets produce 1.2 billion single-use plastic bags and 1.3 billion lightweight plastic produce bags each year.
The sperm whale was found lying dead on a beach on November 19 on the Indonesian island of Kapota.
The cause of its death was no mystery. Local officials discovered that the sea-dwelling mammal had accidentally swallowed large amounts of plastic waste floating in the ocean. The discarded plastic products found in the whale’s gut included two pairs of flipflops, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags and 115 plastic drinking cups.
This whale’s case is hardly unique. Earlier this year a pilot whale was found dead on a beach in Thailand. That animal, too, had likely died after swallowing several kilograms of plastic flotsam, including 80 plastic bags, which local experts found in its guts.
Countless other marine creatures, large and small, continue to perish because of the vast amounts of plastic rubbish floating in the world’s oceans. Whales, sharks and other marine creatures often mistake plastic waste for food and so swallow it. But it does not even have to be sizeable pieces of plastic that can harm or kill animals from fish to birds to mammals. Even microplastics can fell giant whales by accumulating in the crustaceans’ stomachs where they can cause blockages or prevent the animals from digesting their food.
Although there are efforts underway from Turkey to Australia to phase out or outright ban single-use plastic bags, in the United Kingdom alone the 10 major supermarket chains continue to produce an estimated 810,000 tons of single-use plastic packaging every single year, according to a new report by Greenpeace.
“We uncovered shocking statistics about the amount of plastics used each year, and an even more worrying shortage of plans in place to substantially reduce this volume,” the environmentalist group explains. “Currently, most commitments fall far short of the ambition required to reduce dependency on single-use plastics, with room for improvement even among survey leaders.”
The statistics are indeed shocking. Of plastic bags alone, the country’s 10 top supermarkets produce 1.2 billion single-use plastic bags, 958 million bags for life and 1.3 billion lightweight plastic produce bags each year. “It is abundantly clear that we cannot simply recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis, and yet this remains the priority area of focus for many major chains,” stresses Sarah Baulch, Greenpeace’s Senior Ocean Campaigner.
“With just seven supermarkets putting over 59 billion pieces of plastic packaging through their tills every year, the true scale of their footprint is now becoming apparent,” she adds. “Retailers must pioneer new ways to reduce their plastic footprint across the entire supply chain.”