The Gibraltar Government and local businesses are clamping down on the use of plastics, especially single use plastic bags, with some local stores banning them outright.
The message yesterday at a press conference with Government, non-governmental organisations and the business community, was that plastic bags were destroying the environment.
The Department of the Environment and Climate Change, the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS), the Nautilus Project and Environmental Safety Group (ESG), Morrison’s, Eroski and Marks and Spencer were all present and in agreement to help substantially reduce the use of plastic bags and to do away with all single use plastic bags.
“I am incredibly excited in seeing how the Government, businesses and NGOs have all recognised the importance of preventing plastic from getting into the environment and how we can all work together.
This is something that is very real and relevant to Gibraltar given that we are virtually surrounded by sea that is rich in wildlife,” said Minister for the Environment and Climate Change Dr John Cortes.
At the press conference held at the University of Gibraltar it was emphasised how plastic are now well recognised as being a major environmental hazard. Not only, a major constituent of litter both on land an in the sea, but it is also known to cause the death of marine life including seabirds, turtles, whales and dolphins.
“This means that each and every plastic bag that gets into the sea could directly affect the wildlife around us. Our actions can and will make a difference, and I call on all businesses to join this movement and get rid of plastic,” he added.
NGOs and the Department of the Environment and Climate Change all delivered awareness raising presentations yesterday and some of the businesses explained what they are doing to decrease the use of plastic.
Janet Howitt from the ESG spoke about the Clean up the World project the group has been conducting for 13 years. She recalled how “dire” things used to be in Gibraltar regarding littering and fly tipping and how even areas such as Rosia Bay have been used as a dumping ground.
On the annual clean up organised by the group and in comparison to other years she said, “There is still too much rubbish being removed even though the overall situation in Gibraltar has improved.”
Lewis Stagnetto from the Nautilus Project gave a litany of astonishing facts regarding plastics, one of which included the fact that all the plastic that has ever been created in the world still exists today as plastic is not biodegradable.
300 million tonnes of plastic is generated annually, half of this is thrown away, eight million tonnes of that is thrown into our oceans, said Mr Stagnetto.
He noted that turtles see plastic bags as food, and that dolphins and other mammals are caught in fishing nets and die or endure horrific injuries. He also expressed his concern regarding microbeads and how they are being found in fish. As they enter the food chain it is likely to have an effect on human health.
During the conference, Dr Cortes announced that the Government would very shortly be legislating to ban the importation of products containing microbeads. Microbeads are found in many cleaning and beauty products, presently fish [even new born fish] are eating these microbeads, and other plastics. The effects of plastics digested by humans are unknown at present.
Albert Yome from GONHS, is also a swimmer and noted how much plastic pollution there is in the waters around Gibraltar. He said that “we are a throwaway society, globally” and that this is the case in Gibraltar. He said he sees baby wipes, plastics on the beaches and in the sea on a regular basis.
He also noted that year on year there is an increase in jelly fish and that this was down to the fact that turtles are mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish consuming them and dying as a result. He recalled that in 2008 there was campaign to say no to plastic bags, and was pleased that not progress has been made on this. Summing up he said, “we need to reduce the usage of reusable plastic bags and bottles and use the recycling facilities.”
Sarah Fromow from the Department of Environment gave a passionate speech about how people’s desire for convenience and showing off their affluence is damaging the environment.
She said that humans use somewhere between 500 billion and one trillion single use plastic bags a year.
“We use them because they are convenient and because if they are emblazed with a shops logo it shows the world what we can afford.”
She believes people are brushing the issue of plastic in our oceans under the carpet instead of being proactive about changing how plastic is used.
Experts estimate that up to a million birds and 100,000 other marine fauna are killed each year as a result of plastic debris including plastic bags. She said that the Leatherback turtle, found in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, have seen their population numbers drop by 95%, partly due to plastic ingestion.
As plastic breaks down into smaller pieces this results in ‘microplastics’. This then becomes easier for fish and other marine life to digest, resulting in the introduction of plastics into the food chain and bio accumulating through this, with humans being the ultimate consumers.
She told the conference that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. Amongst the photographs she showed there was one of a dolphin in the Bay of Gibraltar with plastic wrapped around it.
“We do not have an excuse,” she said.
“Convenience kills rethink your choices,” she added.
Manager of Marks and Spencer, Chris Walker, said that the store “will be eliminating plastic bags completely and we are no longer ordering more from suppliers in the UK.”
Stating the company has strong environmental credentials and has already introduced paper bags in the clothes and home section of the shop, all of which come in different sizes.
Mr Walker also explained Marks and Spencer feels the ‘bag for life’ bag is being treated as a single use plastic bag so they aim to move away from those bags too in the future.
Gary Chant, store manager at Morrisons said the shop fully supported the incentive to ban plastic bags. He recalled the shop had already stopped providing single use plastic bags instead offering other alternatives including a ‘bag for life’ that would be replaced for free if it broke.
However, he was disappointed to report that he has not noticed a decline in the use of plastic bags and that there is not an increase in people reusing the bags they have previously bought.
Not deterred by this he said, “we need to keep at it” and in time people will move onto canvas and other material bags.
Daniel Massias, a manager at Eroski, also told the conference that single use plastic bags were no longer available at its two stores. At present, they are offering other reusable bags including a range from Waitrose that is 100% recyclable.
Looking towards the future he said the stores are in talks with a supplier in Asia about reusable bags that are 100% biodegradable and will not impact the environment. However, this research is in the early stage and further discussions regarding the bag needs to be conducted.
The message from Mr Massias too was that Eroski “is committed to the reduction of plastic bags.”
At the conference Dr Cortes commented that it was probably the first time in the world that a Government, NGOs and local businesses had come together in such a way.
The initiative will also see the participation of other shops in Gibraltar.