Plastic pollution is a sea monster of our own creation – leader comment

Volunteers from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme described the amount of litter the sperm whale had swallowed was 'utterly horrific'. PIC: SMASS.
Volunteers from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme described the amount of litter the sperm whale had swallowed was 'utterly horrific'. PIC: SMASS.
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The world must find a way to stop plastic pollution from damaging the natural world and, potentially, causing humans problems too.

A 100kg ‘litter ball’ of fishing gear, plastic bags and cups discovered in the stomach of a sperm whale which died on a beach on Harris could be an emblem for our times. An emblem of our casual attitude to the waste we produce in vast quantities and the fate of the animals with which we share this planet.

We already know just how seriously plastic litter is affecting the natural world and we are starting to discover how it may be affecting us too, with tiny pieces of plastic we once threw away coming back in the food we eat.

READ MORE: ‘Ghost’ fishing gear worst plastic threat to marine creatures

READ MORE: Insight: Sea change ahead in global war on waste plastic

According to one study this year, we eat at least 50,000 plastic particles a year, some of which are small enough to pass through our digestive tract into our bodies. Such particles have also been found in the soil, in rivers and lakes and even in the air we breathe. It is everywhere, from the North Pole to the deepest part of the ocean.

We have created what is now a global monster in just over a century since plastic was invented. It is a stunning demonstration of how profoundly we are affecting the Earth. Our response must be equally dramatic.