Is plastic pollution in the water the final straw?

County landfill close to becoming full
County landfill close to becoming full
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It is being described as the final straw - plastic pollution found in our drinking water.

READ MORE: Plastic in drinking water - what are the risks to human health?

Plastics use in Lancashire

Plastics use in Lancashire

The revelation that 90 per cent of bottled water - like tap water - could be contaminated with millions of micro-particles has prompted calls of “enough is enough.”

Coming in the wake of Sir David Attenborough’s alarming Blue Planet documentary, the latest revelations have also sent shock waves around the globe.

Lancashire’s public health chief has urged people not to panic.

But today the Post calls on councils, businesses and individuals alike to ditch single use plastics once and for all, before they choke up our rivers and oceans and overwhelm our landfill sites.

Withy Arms, Leyland, pub landlord John Travill with the new paper straws after banning plastic straws

Withy Arms, Leyland, pub landlord John Travill with the new paper straws after banning plastic straws

South Ribble Council could be the first to ban the stuff if it votes to become a plastic-free authority on Wednesday.

Others, including Preston Council, look set to follow suit as the campaign to rid the world of throw-away plastics gathers pace.

Some businesses across Lancashire are already doing their bit, from an independent coffee shop in Preston city centre to local branches of giants like McDonalds, Starbucks and Greggs.

But environmentalists say this is only scratching the surface of a problem which is now returning to haunt the UK after years of irresponsible waste management.

Lancashire Green Party councillor Gina Dowding, who is campaigning to get single use plastic products banned from all county council premises, said: “Public awareness of problems of our throwaway culture is at an all-time high.”

A working party is now likely to be set up at County Hall to consider the issue.

Coun Dowding explained: “This is about responding to the immediate crisis we have regarding plastics. It’s about this council taking leadership. It needs urgent action.”

Microplastics come from a variety of sources, including clothing and cosmetics. They can be harmful to marine life and pose a threat to ecosystems.

The discovery of tiny plastic particles in 93 per cent of bottled water samples taken around the world last week followed recent revelations that the same microplastics have been discovered in tap water, although in smaller concentrations.

Experts say the risk to human health posed by such contamination remains unclear. The man whose job it is to look after Lancashire’s public health has welcomed an annoucement that the World Health Organisation is planning to review the risks. And in a message to the county’s 1.5m residents Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, director of public health and wellbeing, added: “I do not believe there is any cause for panic.”

The problem of plastic-lined coffee cups

The UK gets through more than 2.5bn disposable coffee cups a year, with almost all of them incinerated, exported or sent to landfill.

A new initiative has been launched designed to make it easier for Lancashire residents to dispose of their plastic-lined cofffee cups.

The cups have in the past been unsuitable for recycling because of the complicated process of separating the component parts. Now “Bring Banks” are being delivered all over Lancashire which means cups can be sent for recycling at a special plant in Halifax.

Organisations from across the paper cup supply chain have signed an agreement to accelerate UK recycling of plastic lined paper cups.

The companies signed up to the agreement include Caffe Nero, Costa Coffee, Greggs, McDonald’s UK, Nestlé, Pret A Manger and Starbucks.

The move comes just days after Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years. The move by has been welcomed in Preston. Richard Lothian, owner of the Ham and Jam coffee shop in Lancaster Road said it was as “a step in the right direction.”

The shop is supplied by the Paper Cup Company at Clitheroe. “As a small independent coffee shop Ham and Jam believe that the majority of our customers believe that any disposable cups put into a recycling bin will be broken down and the material reused,” said Richard. “We know that this is not the case.”

Richard said town centre collections points could be an answer. He added: “At Ham and Jam we have customers who bring in their own cups and we refill them and are more than happy to do so.”

“We will continue to work with our suppliers supporting initiatives and campaigns where we can.

“Ham and Jam recycle all of our waste through recyclable waste solutions provided by the Preston City Council and where possible we purchase goods and materials that can be recycled.”

Landfill will be full ‘within 10 years’

Around 25,000 tonnes of plastic is recycled in Lancashire every year.

In total, 100,000 tonnes of plastic, glass and metal is recycled annually in the county.

The numbers are mindboggling, and putting your milk containers into the recycling box every two weeks can sometimes feel like a depressingly small drop in the ocean.

Lancashire County Council says that 80 per cent of all waste is recyclable, but currently it recycles less than half.

But currently many plastics cannot be recycled and end up in landfill.

And that’s a problem, because at the current rate, Lancashire will run out of landfill space within 10 years.

County Coun Charlie Edwards, who is chairman of Lancashire’s Waste Strategy Sub Group, said that by 2025 the county is going to run out of landfill space.

He said: “All the councillors have decided to put aside their differences and try to get to grips with this.”

From year, China is no longer accepting various materials including plastic waste from foreign countries.

According to environmental charity Greenpeace, the UK sends nearly two-thirds of its plastic waste to China.

Some 12 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year, and in 2012 it was estimated there is around 165 million tonness of plastic pollution currently swirling around in the sea.

Pubs choose paper straws

One local business doing its bit is the Withy Arms Group, which runs three pubs in Leyland and Bamber Bridge.

Realising they were getting through 10,000 plastic straws a month, group boss Lee Forshaw decided to call time on plastics.

Lee said: “We’re no longer purchasing plastic straws and trying to minimise single use plastics.

“We made the decision through our trade press because we’re aware of the massive amount of wastage from plastic straws people use.

“It’s shocking, really.”

He said the cost to the chain of the 10,000 straws each month is £35 plus VAT. The new paper straws work out roughly at £4.49 per 250.

“We moving to paper straws, they’re one hundred per cent biodegradable straws,” said Lee.

“We’re doing our bit for the environment because it’s quite a shock, really.”

The Leyland pub’s landlord John Travill said of the change to plastic straws: “It was a no brainer. We do realise that some other pubs have done it already in the Leyland area, but the straws we’re using are more expensive.

“We’ve tested them and left them in the glass for an hour.

“The cheaper ones tend to unravel and float.”

Last year, discount pub chain Wetherspoons announced it would replace plastic straws
with paper ones across 900 outlets.

The Student Union bar at the University of Central Lancashire has also banned them.

Councils acting to address plastic use

South Ribble Council could vote on Wednesday to ditch all single use plastic by the end of next year.

A motion put forward by two independent councillors is expected to be backed by the two major parties.

And one of the proposers, Coun Claire Hamilton, said the move could include encouraging all businesses and residents within the borough to do the same.

“Drastic action is needed to get rid of plastics which cannot be recycled and end up in landfill,” said Coun Hamilton. “We think the council should be setting an example by scrapping the use of this sort of material as quickly as possible.”

The motion, proposed by fellow independent Coun Paul Wharton, will be voted on at Wednesday’s full council meeting. An original motion, which called on the authority to bring in a ban by the end of this year was deferred recently because it was felt it might be unachievable in 2018.

In Preston, Coun Robert Boswell, cabinet member for community and environment, said: “Reducing single use plastic and increasing recycling overall are very high priorities for us and will be discussed at full council on April 19. We are looking to work with Lancashire County Council and neighbouring authorities to address this issue, which affects us all. Support is also needed from manufacturers in the type of plastics used, enabling increased recycling or by using alternative materials. It’s everyone’s responsibility - by working together we can achieve more.”