Litter is a global problem. In fact, it is estimated that 95% of plastic in the ocean comes from just 10 rivers, 8 of which are in Asia (1). But statistics like this could lead some people to think that littering in the west is not a major contributor to ocean pollution.
Litter is a pet hate for many people and it is definitely one of mine. I find it incredibly hard to walk away from an area which is heavily littered, whether I have my litter picker or not, and during a recent stay in Puerto Pollenca, Mallorca, the War on Litter became a daily obsession.
Every year more than 2.3 million British tourists enjoy holidaying on the island of Mallorca (2) and Port de Pollença is one of the Islands most desirable locations for families seeking sun and relaxation, couples getting married and avid cyclists. It sits nestled in the north east, and is famous for its many Cala's, the Cap de Formentor, the Serra de Tramuntana and the historic Pine Walk.
On idyllic islands like this one, tourism does comes at a cost. The government have supplied hundreds of bins and dozens of recycling points throughout this area, yet litter can be found just meters away.
Single use plastic can be found everywhere
One morning, in just over 1 hour, I collected more than 22 plastic ice cream spoons from the sand and lapping waves. With its many cafes and restaurants dotted along the coastline, plastic sugar sachets are blown from tables onto the beach and into the sea.
The most littered items are the same globally it seems. Sweet wrappers, cigarette ends, polystyrene pieces, crisp wrappers and baby wipes as well as straws, plastic water bottles and drinks cans.
Being so close to the ocean and seeing so much litter should weigh heavy on our conscience. We are being educated by news reports, by documentaries, by scientists and by social media about the damage ocean pollution is having on sea life, ecosystems and ocean habitats (3).
Each year, an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic waste enters the world's ocean from coastal regions. Seventy percent of the mass eventually sinks, damaging life on the seabed. What we see above the surface is literally just a drop in the ocean.
The beach umbrellas look beautiful on this coastline. They create the perfect companion to the crystal clear turquoise water. Unfortunately the enjoyment was tainted by the hundreds of cut pieces of cable ties, which had been used to erect them, simply left all over the sand. We managed to collect more than 120 separate cable ties ends from just one area.
The regional government drafted proposals in 2018 for a 'greener Mallorca'. Plastic waste and non-recyclable materials would be phased out entirely, while food and drink outlets will be forced to serve tap water. The new legislation would see countless plastic items banned completely. The law, called the Waste and Soils Polluting Bill, aimed to increase recycling rates by up to 50 per cent in two years and cut waste by up to 10 per cent. Single-use plastic objects – including plates, trays, straws, cutlery and coffee cups – would be heavily restricted, before the majority being prohibited entirely by January 2020. Selling standard plastic bags would have been banned by January 1, 2019 and outlets would instead be encouraged to provide reusable bags instead (4)
Sadly, it seems that this attempt at cleaning up has not been very successful so far. Plastic bags have not been banned and plastic straws are still served by bars and restaurants.
Things are looking up. Back in February, the President of the Balearic's Francina Armengol, announced plans for a much greener future (5) and it seems that steps are already being take to implement it. Electric charging points for cars are being installed in car parks in towns and villages as well as outside supermarkets.
Governments are not entirely to blame though. As consumers we all need to be conscious of what happens to the items we use, and littering doesn't happen by accident. It must be physically dropped on the floor or left behind.
Mallorca is a stunning Island and like all counties in the World, Spain and it's Islands have much to do to clean up its towns, rivers, and beach resorts, but let's face it, we can all lend a helping hand to help clean up the mess we have created.
How can you help? Next time you are on holiday, look around. As a thank you for the wonderful memories you have created in that place, why not take just 15 minutes of your time on the beach to collect some litter. Post your litter collection on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Let your friends, family and colleagues know that by collecting rubbish they are not just taking a stand against litter but protecting our oceans from more plastic pollution.