Opinion

May’s Straw Ban Distracts From Real Killer of Our Ocean: Ghost Fishing

Written by Stephanie Kleanthous

Illustration by Grace Biddle

In May 2019 we saw Theresa May announce her resignation as Prime Minister. In her final months she decided it was time to act on several matters she had neglected throughout her service.

These included:

  • Calling for the reintroduction of student maintenance grants – despite being a senior cabinet minister in the government who dumped them.
  • Setting out ‘ambitions’ to end coal use and end the UK’s contribution to climate change.
  • Calling for more funding into the NHS mental health services.
  • Finally welcoming and thanking the Grenfell community at No 10, a community she failed and ignored for so long.

For many of us, this is all a little too late. It seems to be an attempt at redemption for the damage caused throughout her service. These final, desperate actions paint the misleading illusion that she has helped the country in drastic times – the reality is far from it.

One of these huge deceptions is the banning of plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers which will commence in April 2020.

As I’m sure many readers are aware, the focus on plastic straws emerged after this video of a turtle with a plastic straw in its nose surfaced in 2015.

While this video is horrific, we must look at the facts:

“In the UK, at least 4.4 billion straws are estimated to be thrown away annually. Eight million tons of plastic flows into the ocean every year, and straws comprise just 0.025 percent of that.”

National Geographic

Through the charging of plastic bags and the banning of minor contributors to the ocean’s pollution, the government is simply pushing the burden onto consumers.

So, what are the biggest contributions to polluting our oceans?

In November 2018, PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – published an article titled: ‘Plastic Straws Didn’t Kill These Animals—Fishing Gear Did’.

“According to the report, titled Ghosts Beneath the Waves, more than 700,000 tons of fishing gear is left in the ocean each year. This abandoned equipment—also known as “ghost gear”— kills and mutilates millions of sea animals.”

PETA

This issue of ‘ghost gear’ was raised for the first time in April 1985, meaning it’s been 34 years since it’s been brought to the world’s attention.

“Hundreds of kilometers of nets and lines get lost every year and due to the nature of the materials used to produce these types of gear, they can and will keep fishing for multiple decades, possibly even for several centuries.”

Ghostfishing.org

If fishing gear and larger plastic items are the biggest contributors to polluting our oceans and harming living creatures, we must ask why our government and society has placed so much importance on the banning of straws. We must demand more from our government and ourselves.

We’ve all experienced it, that glare you get when you ask for a straw by someone who most likely consumes fish. It’s become taboo to use an item that makes up 0.025% of the plastic in the ocean. However, imagine a world where, as you’re tucking into your fish and chips from up the road, every passerby is serving you up a cold, hard stare.

I’m not saying this would be an ideal world, but it would make a lot more sense. Unfortunately, society has become ignorant to the bigger picture. We buy into this illusion surrounding plastic straws, believing we’re ‘doing our part’ by opting for a paper straw over cutting out or reducing our fish intake.

Turtles are also being trapped in fishing nets, so why isn’t the government acting on this? Why aren’t we acting on this?

An organisation called World Animals Protection are:

  • Reducing the volume of fishing gear entering the oceans.
  • Recycling ghost fishing gear in innovative ways, and creating sustainable business models.
  • Removing ghost fishing gear.
  • Rescuing animals — providing training and support, and enabling rescuers to free marine animals entangled in ghost fishing gear.

This work is happening alongside another organisation, Ghost Fishing, who are also working towards reducing the impact of abandoned gear in the ocean.

The power one video of a turtle with a plastic straw in its nose had on our society was immense. The government could use their power to educate further on the detrimental contributors, fund organisations such as World Animals Protection, and cut out, or at least cut down, items such as plastic bottles, plastic cups, wet wipes and plastic food packaging.

“Experts believe that UK supermarkets are producing 810,000 tonnes of single-use plastic every year. This is in addition to over 1.1 billion single-use bags, 958 million ‘bags for life’ and 1.2 billion plastic bags for fruit and vegetables, which supermarkets produce annually, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace UK states.”

The Independent

I do believe we should continue to cut out single-use plastic items, but to place so much importance on one item is to disregard the harsh reality of the eight million tons of plastic flow in the ocean.

“In April 2018, nearly all of the UK’s major supermarket chains signed up to the UK Plastics Pact, which aims to tackle plastic waste.”

The Independent

It seems our supermarkets are more proactive than our government. And while this is a great start from companies such as Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose, it is only the beginning.

The Prime Minister tweeted this video, showcasing what has been done so far to reduce the pollution:

My response to this is: it is not enough.

Edited by Ruby Hinchliffe

Stephanie has recently completed an English Literature degree and is now working full time in events. She enjoys writing poetry, scripts and short stories as well as discussing issues related to mental health, underrepresented voices and feminism. She had an article published in Sunday Girl Magazine Issue 07.

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