The impact of litter on local wildlife is something that demands our undivided attention. I think all of us are becoming more familiar with the reality of our plastic oceans (we now even have a word for when plastic melts into sediment - plastiglomerates), and with the threat of plastic on our water dwelling cousins growing wider and deeper every year, action is desperately needed. But what about the wildlife we share our cities with?
Sure, all plastic makes its way out to sea to wreak havoc, but there is a lot more is going on in this twisted production line, and it starts on our doorstep.
From the moment mallards are born - they are navigating canals of plastic waste, gambling their lives as they nip at the water's edge for nutrients. The RSPCA alone receive 14 calls a day about the impact of litter on local wildlife, and sadly the truth is that the vast majority of urban birds will already have some kind of plastic rumbling around in their digestive systems.
Our waterways were possibly the biggest catalyst for the Industrial Revolution and helped give birth to society as we know it today, but at what cost? Many of us have turned our back on these waterways, opting for a life of digital screens and overconsumption. It would be a terrible thing for a generation to lose its chance to fall in love with the wildlife that lives here.
Mute swans are some of the most iconic and recognisable birds we have in the UK, inspiring children and adults alike with their ethereal elegance and giant body mass. Their nests are like cathedrals - living proof of the rewards time and patience can bring. But what have we ever contributed to these architectural feats? A swan's nest in Bury speaks a thousands words.
A couple of years ago I found a blackbird nest on my windowsill, and was quickly excited at the idea of little black bundles of fluff chirping away, bringing the newness of spring a little bit closer to home. But it wasn't until I took a much closer look at the nest that I realised something was wrong.
The nest was filled with plastic.
Blackbirds are a common sight in our cities, and during spring there are over 5 million blackbird nests in the UK. However, all this plastic came from just one nest in one place at one time. If you even begin to multiply those figures, well, I'll let you do the math. The blackbird loses every single time.
During clean ups I've found crisp packets from the 1980s, perfectly preserved as though they were made yesterday (Salt & Shake, for any crisp connoisseurs out there). We've found plastic bags from all major supermarket chains, police evidence bags, disposable cutlery, cigarette butts, coffee cups, beer cans, fridges, sofas, syringes, and even a washed up kayak.
Now usually I would try to round this kind of blog off with a positive outlook on things, but since we have just - as a species - reached an all-time high consumption of one million plastic bottles every single minute on this planet (each bottle taking 450 years to decompose) it is becoming harder and harder to spin that line. In a content world 450 years from now, will 90% of seabirds still have some form of plastic in their gut, or will they all be dead? I sometimes wonder who will be the first person to find these relics of our future past, and will they respect what we left behind.
The thousands of choices we make every day are becoming critical to the kind of world we want to live in, and they have a huge impact on people around you. In a world filled with international production and monolithic industry it is easy to feel out-gunned and unheard, but you are not alone. People are always watching - and so never underestimate the power of compassionate action. We are united by our love of animals and our love of people and so let's do our best to protect that world.
For all the blackbird nests coated in plastic and the newborn mallard chicks taking their first swim in layers of oil and unwanted debris, for the herons sitting atop old bike frames or shopping trolleys and the swans building their nests out of our disposable society, let's just ask ourselves two questions.
How do we want to remember them?
How do we want to be remembered by them?