Shocking facts about how micro-plastics invade our bodies through our drinking water and the very air we breathe were revealed to Maidenhead Rotary Club by its guest speaker on Monday.
Brian Jonson, from Marlow Rotary Club, is an ambassador for End Plastic Soup, an international Rotary initiative with the ambitious aim of stopping plastic pollution being dumped into our seas, and waterways by 2050.
But what is plastic soup? The term covers visible bottles and other large plastic waste like carrier bags but also includes the micro-plastics which have an alarming, albeit unseen, impact on our daily lives.
Micro-plastics are found in many products from face creams, detergents and teabags to fertilizers. They are also created by tyre wear and from the release of microfibers when washing clothes.
Plastic breaks down further into tiny fragments that get into the food chain, water we drink and the air we breathe.
“I thought I was aware of the problems of plastic pollution but I had no idea of the issues of micro-plastics and the surrounding effects on our long-term health,” said Brian. “We each eat 2kg of plastic and breathe in 6kg of plastic dust a year. It also gets into our organs and brain through our skin.”
Eight billion tons of plastic is produced every year – that’s 45kg per person, and includes one million plastic bottles a minute. But only nine per cent of plastic waste is recycled. The rest is dumped in landfill or finds its way into our rivers and seas - each year eight million metric tons of plastic enters the oceans.
And it’s a problem here in Maidenhead. The Thames has some of the highest recorded levels of micro plastics of any river in the world, with tiny bits of plastic found in the bodies of crabs.
“Micro plastics are one of the greatest man-made disasters of our time,” said Brian.
Started in 2018 by the Rotary clubs of Amsterdam, the End Plastic Soup Campaign has now spread to Rotary clubs across the globe. It aims to harness the same energy and commitment from the world’s 1.2 million Rotarians that has led to the near eradication of Polio.
Already there are End Plastic Soup projects worldwide where Rotary is leading or partnering with other organisations. These include river and lake clean-ups but also awareness campaigns in schools and communities, plastic-free events, and international lobbying.
Brian said incentives such as the levy on carrier bags – which had cut their use by 80 per cent – plus a shift to new eco-friendly design and production methods by industry will begin to make a difference. Recycling, the capture and collection of plastic in rivers and oceans and its environmentally-friendly disposal will also contribute to reaching the 2050 target.
But most important of all: we must reduce our plastic footprint.
Brian said: “Plastic never goes away. It just gets smaller and smaller. We need to minimise our use – particularly single -use plastic. We have to reduce, redesign, reuse and recycle.”
This year also sees the addition of protecting the environment as a seventh ‘area of focus’ for Rotary, the first time a new core objective has been added in the organisation’s history.
For more information about End Plastic Soup contact Rotarian Gurdial Singh, who is the club’s link member for the project.