Ten years ago, my first long feature for a commercial magazine was published and, to this day, Landfill-on-Sea for Ecologist remains my most searched-for piece of work. That’s because it taps into a massive and growing problem: our ever-swelling appetite for plastics. Plastic pollution in our oceans has shot up in the past decade, not helped, of course, by the proliferation of single-use plastics in our everyday lives. Plastic, in one form or another, is simply everywhere. And that must change.
That was the message of my piece in 2007. So, why, a decade on, is the article as accurate as it was when it first appeared (save for even larger numbers)?
Two weeks ago, I was on board a research yacht, travelling in the Coral Sea with documentary makers and founders of not-for-profit Two Hands. Along the beaches of Queensland’s more remote islands, we found scores of bottle tops, bits and pieces of packaging material and the scarily ever-present gnarled flip-flops (with shark bite marks).
The anti-plastic lobby is building strength and the Two Handsers of the world are doing their bit to affect cultural change, but their message is up against slow governance, bottom lines and the petrochemical industry’s might, which, faced with a future of electric cars and the like, depends on our plastic addiction for its own survival.
It’s a David and Goliath battle, meaning that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is going nowhere fast – and that first, big feature of mine remains scarily pertinent.