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The BBC broadcast a horrifying documentary yesterday on October 1, showing the extent to which waste plastic is clogging up our rivers and seas and the appalling harm being done to both plant and animal life as a result.

It represents a shocking dereliction of duty on the part of the organisations around the world that are charged with handling this material responsibly – and are ignoring that responsibility on a global scale.

I wrote a few words on Facebook and they seem to have enjoyed some popularity so I am reproducing them here:

I’m watching ‘Drowning in Plastic’, the BBC documentary about waste plastic killing wildlife in the world’s rivers and oceans. I think it’s supposed to be making me feel guilty but actually I’m angry.

We don’t get much choice about our use of plastic, or the other stuff that gets thrown into the water and forgotten. We have it foisted upon us in the packaging of the things we buy and, as a rule, we handle it in the manner that (we’re told) is responsible.

It is the people we have to trust to get rid of it responsibly who are letting everybody (and I mean everybody) down.

There needs to be some accountability here. From what I’m seeing, I’m unwillingly complicit in a crime of such enormity that my mind flinches away from considering it. And that is not acceptable.

I want to know who is responsible for this – and I notice that this information is missing from the film. I want to know what can be done to hold them to account – and if there’s no accountability at the moment, I want to know what can be done to BRING them to account. And I want to know how people like myself can participate in determining what the remedial action should be.

I bet nobody’s going to put it right in anything like a timely way unless people like us roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty.

And I don’t mean by fishing this crap out of the water ourselves.

You’ll have spotted that I asked some questions that I considered pertinent: Who is responsible? What can be done to hold them to account? What can be done to bring them to account if there is no legal recourse now? And how can ordinary people participate in bringing justice to this matter?

A few people made suggestions on Facebook but I’m keen to see more. I spotted an infographic on Twitter that suggested ways we can make our opposition known – you can see it at the top of this article – but I don’t think it goes anything like far enough. I don’t think enough people will take the kind of mass, sustained action that would be necessary to make the uncaring corporates change their minds.

As one respondent stated: “Let’s all pretend it’s our personal responsibility while big corporations are raping the planet. Keep focussed on individuals that way people don’t look where the real problem lies. The idea that we can save the planet by not using plastic washing up brushes etc is naïve in the extreme.”

Another respondent voiced his suspicion: “I feel that a lot of the plastic waste floating around in the world’s oceans has come from unscrupulous shipping companies who have been contracted to transport our waste to other countries for processing and then just dump their cargo at sea, pretty much a bigger version of what some commercial vehicle owners do when offering to remove your rubbish for a fee.”

Another supported it: “Do the shipments arrive at their destinations?
Who checks they’ve got there?
With the “flagging out” of marine transportation who checks the shipping arrangements?
What if a large percentage of shipped recycling is actually just jettisoned en route and the ships then proceed somewhere else to pick up more?
How does anyone manage to find out anything more about this?”

They are good questions, especially as: “Inspectors for various things were one of the losses in the Tory’s ‘bonfire of the quangos’ that they managed to persuade everyone to applaud. We need a rebuilding of the quangos (but with a less tainted name).”

Many of you may consider this a useful solution: “I’ve started to send all my excess plastic packaging back to the customer services department of whichever supermarket it came from. Most of them have a freepost address, so you just package up all the surplus plastic and mail it to them at their expense.” But what will those corporations do with the waste?

One suggestion as a solution was, “We need a Plastics Act rather than just randomly targeting individual items.” I would agree, but I think it would need to be international rather than just operating in a single country.

Here’s another: “We need much more strict regulations from the top down, and this indeed means governments being accountable for their decisions on an environmental basis across the board. Including economic modelling to properly respect environmental concerns, the same for businesses, and right through society to farmers and consumers. In short creating a ‘fairer’ society to accommodate these interventions. The governments should be accountable to the UN and subject to harsh penalties (not piffling fines) in case of infringement. I think we should all engage with the clean up at this stage as far as possible, not because it’s the peoples’ fault per se but because it has gotten that bad. But ultimately the world’s governments need to be held to serious account for their treatment of the environment on so many levels.”

But who will impose such regulations and how will they be enforced? Should there perhaps be an independent, international organisation?

Perhaps it would be an easier argument to make if an alternative material were available? “Hemp is a really versatile material, clothes, paper, rope, soap, oil – what’s needed is a decision (and funding) taken nationally, so that manufacturers set up to make things in plastic are given compensation for refitting their factories. Major university departments study materials science, with government funding initiatives they could invent something surely.”

What about this issue? “Corporate courts are probably preventing us doing much towards polluters paying for remedial costs.”

We do recycle many plastics – or we think we do. Consider this: “All the recycling efforts we make – then strangely, recycling centres all over Britain keep going up in flames. At the end of August, from about 2 hours of google searching, I found 15 centres had caught on fire since April. That’s a lot of carcinogenic dioxins being released, – but what a convenient way of getting rid of it all, convenient for the contracters that is.” What is the story here? 

Make no mistake: This issue will magically go away if we don’t keep it on the public agenda – because governments and corporations can’t be bothered to deal with something that may reduce profits/harm the economy and don’t care if it kills a few animals and plants (they won’t accept the overarching threat to the ecosystem that the plastic poisoning of the planet represents).

So the question remains: What do you think should be done about it, and how do you propose to make it happen?

I await your contributions.

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