The good news is that consumers in Europe have done a great job curbing their use of plastic bags, and fewer are ending up in waterways around the world. The bad news is that now plastic bottles are clogging oceans and rivers.
According to the new Plastic Rivers report from Earthwatch Europe and Plastic Oceans UK, plastic bottles are now the most prevalent form of plastic pollution in European waterways. Coming in second are food wrappers, like potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers, followed by cigarette butts.
Here’s how the list of visible litter shakes out:
- Bottles: 14%
- Food wrappers: 12%
- Cigarette butts: 9%
- Disposable food containers: 6%
- Cotton-swab sticks: 5%
- Takeaway cups: 4%
Not only are Coke bottles, Camel butts, Frito-Lay packages, and some stranger’s ear wax-laden Q-tip nasty to look at while you’re trying to appreciate nature, but they kill wildlife and fish and are difficult to clean up.
As The Guardian notes, while much reporting has been done on the plastic polluting the world’s oceans, about 80% of that ocean plastic starts as river pollution. Some experts believe that cleaning the trash out of rivers is the best way to curb plastic in the ocean. Well, the second best way: Cutting out single-use plastic products remains the best way to fight plastic pollution. The EU is working on that as it recently passed legislation to ban many single-use plastics by 2021.
Going back to the good news: It’s clear that consumer efforts can pay off. After years of consumers bringing their own bags to the store, ponying up for plastic bag fees, or voting in plastic bag bans, the fight against plastic bag pollution seems to be working. According to the report, plastic bags now make up only 1% of plastic rubbish in freshwater in Europe.
Now it’s up to consumers to fight the next battle in plastic pollution and stop buying drinks in plastic bottles—and it’s up to companies to start offering alternatives. The war against plastic to save oceans requires companies and consumers to work together to protect the planet.
Originally publishing on fastcompany.com