Transforming | our environment

Tackling Nessie, the plastic monster

We are producing more plastic waste than ever before - and with devastating consequences. It is littering our cities, seas and waterways, and contributing to health problems in humans and animals.

Dr Jessica van Horssen, senior lecturer and environmental historian, sailed around the UK to assess the state of the waters and track the devastation humans are causing, witnessing first-hand the silent killer in our seas. Loch Ness in Scotland was a major focus on Jessica’s journey. She said: “Loch Ness is beautiful – over 200,000 tourists visit each year. But this intense human presence has massively impacted the local environment as well as the larger, global eco-systems the loch is connected to. The extent of the rubbish was clear to see - kids’ toys, styrofroam cups – the junk was endless. Plastic is so widely used and can do some amazing things, particularly in the medical world, but we just don’t know the extent of the damage it can do. Could the Loch Ness monster actually be a reflection of how humans have treated the marine environments of the world as bottomless waste disposal units? Plastic pollution is incredibly real, so not like Nessie in that way, but they are similar in that something dark and unknown lurks beneath the surface, and it's entirely created by humans. I’m interested in looking at the historical path on issues such as plastic. As a society, how do we deal with it? What have we let go of in order to favour convenience? This gives you a deeper sense of history; seeing a present day issue and following the historical trail, bringing the past and present together.”

The findings from Jessica and her team are helping to shape policy and drive recommendations on reducing plastic consumption. “By developing ways to reduce our plastic consumption, as well as better methods of disposing of waste responsibly, we have the opportunity to change the narrative. But we need to do this soon, as monsters like Nessie continue to lurk beneath the surface of our marine environments, getting larger and more irreversible each year.”

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