The problem of waste and and plastic pollution is, quite rightly, a very hot topic at the moment and I have previously discussed the rise in fly-tipping and the lack of a sense of personal responsibility for litter among our youngsters.
Just the other day I was walking dogs along a country path at Bishopthorpe near York, and I came across a large group of teenage ramblers, plus a few adults, split into a number of smaller posses. They looked like they were on a Duke of Edinburgh Award challenge and were well kitted out, with sturdy boots and large rucksacks on their backs.
One group had decided to take a break by the side of the path. We greeted each other, and they were very friendly and cheerful as they ate their snacks. I walked on further with the dogs, watching other groups of the teenage hikers ahead of me as they made their way good-naturedly along the route.
After a while, it was time for me to turn back and once again I passed the spot where they had taken their break. To my utter dismay, scattered across the ground were several freshly-empty crisp packets and sweet wrappers. I was so cross that they blatantly disregarded the beauty of the countryside within which they were walking, and now they were nowhere to be seen.
Had I met them again, I would have asked if any of them had attended the recent ‘Fridays for the Future’ climate strikes where, instead of attending school, thousands of pupils took a day off to join marches against pollution and climate change. I have a feeling that a good number of them will have done that, not registering the hypocrisy of leaving their litter behind to pollute the environment they claim they want to protect.
I do think the issue of littering is worse these days, and yet, it is nothing new. In his column from 19th May 1979, my dad wrote: “It seems we are a careless society, whose people care not for the landscape, their environment or the lives and health of wild creatures.”
And the particular threat of plastic pollution was already concerning him back then too. He expressed disappointment that so many of our groceries were being packed in plastic wrapping and containers: “Many plastics will not deteriorate, and will consequently lie in the grass or on the moors forever, unless some hapless animal like a cow or a sheep attempts to eat it.”
But there are people out there who are coming up with clever ways to help combat the problem. I came across a fascinating video on social media featuring Balinese social entrepreneur Kevin Kumala. He has invented a new kind of carrier bag using starch from the cassava, a root vegetable grown in many Asian countries. The carrier bags are strong enough to hold your groceries, and yet 100% biodegradable and harmless to nature, being totally safe if animals ingest them. Unlike conventional plastic bags, which take hundreds of years to break down, these take just three to six months and are made without using any harmful oil-based chemicals. In fact, they completely dissolve in warm water which is then safe enough to drink.
Is it time our big supermarkets start leading the way by ditching their conventional bags and choosing those that are kinder to our environment?
Another entrepreneur, Toby McCartney, has also come up with a groundbreaking idea, this time to turn plastic waste from the household, commercial and agricultural sectors into pellets that can be used in the construction and repair of roads. It means less waste going to incineration or landfill and, so he claims, results in stronger road surfaces that are less prone to potholes. That will be a welcome solution to many of us in Yorkshire who are well acquainted with that problem.
Cumbria County Council is the first in the country to start using this new plastic compound on its roads, so I wonder if North Yorkshire has any plans to follow suit?
Lastly, if you are a teacher, adult leader or parent associated with the large group of teenagers who were walking down the York to Selby cycle path, past Bishopthorpe, on Saturday 27th April, then please get in touch with me via this paper so we can discuss what we can do to help our young people be more responsible around litter.
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