The world is awash with plastic. Around 80 per cent of all the plastic ever produced is still with us today. There is a garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean three times the size of France. And, if nothing changes, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.
Those of us who consider ourselves to be good recyclers might feel we’re not part of the problem but, sadly, we are. Not all recycling ends up being recycled and some of it is even blown into the oceans.
Now the issue is more urgent than ever. Last year China said ‘no thank you’ to other countries’ low-grade recyclate and – perversely – the US is investing heavily in new plastic plants on the back of its booming oil-fracking industry.
Plastic is not litter, says Hugo Tagholm who heads up Surfers Against Sewage. It’s a pollutant, emitted by ‘Big Business’ which outsources its clean-up fees to nature and ourselves – 90 per cent of the cost of recycling is borne by the tax payer.
Amid the villains there are some surprising heroes. Although the UK languishes in the middle of Europe’s recycling league tables, Wales is the second-best recycler in the world due to ambitious targets and a joined-up system. And frozen food retailer Iceland has committed to eliminating all own-brand plastic packaging by 2023 putting pressure on other supermarkets to do the same.
Yes, we need to lobby governments, councils and businesses, believes Siegle, but, in the meantime, we can all do our bit – refusing, refilling, and so on. If just 12 people followed Siegle’s advice they’d avoid up to 15,000 pieces of plastic each year, taking us all a little closer to her dream of clean seas.
Frightening, galvanising and unapologetically instructive, this is a surprisingly positive book about a deeply concerning subject.