How storms are uncovering our dirty plastic past

As part of our mission to 'Clear the Air', we plan to shine a light on companies or organisations that share our goals and the whole Electrifying team are big fans of Non Plastic Beach. As keen divers, it's founders Gareth and Nicola saw the impact plastic has on reefs, beaches and rivers around the world and wanted to help reverse this ever-growing problem.  In October 2018, Gareth (who's first career was in the car industry) opened Non Plastic Beach and they offer smart alternatives to single-use and disposable plastic for the kitchen and bathroom. We love its products, but like many of you, have often wondered why plastic is such a problem. Over to Gareth to explain.


Ginny Buckley

7.4.2020

How Long Does Plastic Last? 

At Non Plastic Beach we often get asked why plastic is such a problem. The recent storms in the UK have given us an insight into just how long plastic can last, with single-use items from the 1950s and 1960s washing up on UK beaches.

‘Big weather’ events create waves that shift sandbanks and wind that erodes sand dunes. These then release plastic that has been covered for many years and incredibly well preserved. This might be historically interesting, but it also gives us an insight into the harm that plastic is doing – and will continue to do – to our oceans.

Documenting and researching the origins of our plastic past is the Twitter and Instagram account, @LegoLostatSea. The account was originally dedicated to the 1997 spill of 5 million pieces of LEGO from a container lost off a ship near Cornwall. To this day, LEGO daisies, cutlasses, seasgrass, inflatable boats and dragons wash up on beaches around the South West.

Today, the account has over 10,000 followers on Twitter and works hard to identify particularly old, interesting or persistently found pieces of plastic. Through this work we can get an insight into just how resilient plastic can be to environmental factors, with pieces that are almost 70 years old washing up after being released from dunes or sandbanks. 

Cereal Giveaway Plastic Toys 60 Years On

Among solid plastic items they have found are a football spinning top given away with Kellogg’s Cornflakes in 1958, a Doby Washing up Bottle from the 1950s, a Tallon Jet car model from 1962 and a figure from Sugar Puffs in 1957. 

Snack Food - a Moment on the Lips, Half a Century Under Ships

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that a solid lump of plastic can last a long time in the sea or sand, but even lightweight, single-use plastics like pots, bottles and even crisp bags can be found decades later. Pictured is a 1970 Moffat Maid Lemonade pot, on a beach 50 years after it was consumed! 

Plastic as a Global Problem

Another very identifiable cargo spill that occurred was a consignment of HP Printer cartridges, which were lost six years ago and have been found in the US, Bermuda, the Azores, UK, France, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Norway. Still more have washed up in Cornwall in the aftermath of Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis. 

Microplastic Tide

When I travelled with Non Plastic Beach co-founder Nicola to Malta in 2019, we did a video last year on the plastic tide we saw there on otherwise very clean beaches, made up of microplastic particles. Surfers Against Sewage, which NPB donate money to regularly, recently published video and pictures from Cornish beaches showed the shocking amount of plastic particles that were visible along the strandline (high tide mark) and in rock pools. This is what normally happens to aged plastic - it doesn’t break down chemically, it breaks up into smaller and smaller fragments that then become part of the sand, gravel or pebbles of the beach. 

As those bits get smaller and smaller, they end up in animals and plants and therefore end up in our food and the water we drink. It is estimated that the majority of us eat the equivalent of one credit card’s worth of plastic every week. 

Aiming for a Non Plastic Beach 

I salute the legions of regular beach and river cleaners who help stem the plastic tide and stop plastic from remaining in our oceans. These volunteers play a valuable role in reducing ocean plastic and sadly it looks like we will need them for many years. Non Plastic Beach is focused on reducing the amount people consume and therefore how much is produced, and combined with the efforts of our beach clean heroes, we may just end up with beaches that match our company name. 

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