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Plastic bottles, an environmental sacrilege – Readers Letter

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Bottle-Pollution.jpgFarsons, Malta’s largest bottler, has announced that it is going to replace its glass bottles with plastic ones, a move that amounts to an environmental sacrilege given its likely impact.

It has been discovered that the world’s oceans are being polluted by plastic waste to a degree never before realised. In the middle of the Pacific in an area known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, lies a floating garbage patch of plastic twice the size of Britain! And this is just the Pacific. All the world’s oceans contain Gyres, which are basically desert areas in the ocean. Due to their circular currents flotsam and jetsam have been accumulating there for decades.

The Australian environmentalist Ian Kiernan says he will never forget the first time he saw the gyre, saying: “It was just filled with things like furniture, fridges, plastic containers, cigarette lighters, plastic bottles, light globes, televisions and fishing nets.”

It is estimated there are more than 13,000 pieces of plastic litter on every square kilometre of the ocean surface. The United Nations Environment Program says plastic is accountable for the deaths of more than a million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals every year. A Dutch study in the North Sea of fulmar seabirds concluded 95 per cent of the birds had plastic in their stomachs. More than 1,600 pieces were found in the stomach of one bird in Belgium. The frightening thing here is that this only accounts for the plastic floating on the surface. It has been estimated that 70% of the plastic entering the ocean sinks to the bottom where it can smother marine life. As an example Dutch scientists recently found 600,000 tonnes of plastic waste on the bottom of the North Sea alone.

Even more frightening is that this plastic is entering our food chain. Plastic by its very nature is made to be very durable. It doesn’t biodegrade like normal waste, but photodegrades due to sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces. Birds such as the fleshy-footed shearwater swallow this in mistake for fish. They then regurgitate it down the necks of their fledglings, killing them.

It has also been found that plastic polymers act like a sponge for resilient poisons such as DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls. Non-water-soluble toxic chemicals can be found in plastic in levels as high as a million times their concentration in water. As small pieces of plastic are mistaken for fish eggs and other food by marine life, these toxins enter the food chain. So is there anything that Farsons and General Soft Drinks can do to ensure that they do not add to this environmental disaster? The answer is yes; they can stick to re-usable glass or use this changeover to send a message to the world by changing from the use of traditional petrochemical-based plastics to bioplastics. Due to the increase in oil prices the use of bioplastic is now becoming quite cost-effective.

So what is bioplastic? To all intents and purposes, it looks like plastic and feels like plastic and does the same thing as plastic, except that it biodegrades in the presence of heat, moisture and bacteria. So it will do everything that the traditional petrochemical-based plastics will do with the added bonus that when it ends up in the sea or a landfill site it biodegrades. Already supermarkets in Britain, such as Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, have introduced bioplastic packaging, and food companies are embracing the concept.

This is a perfect opportunity for these companies in particular and Malta in general to show that they are a driving force in the world of environmentalism.

Alex Tyrrell

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