Clean the oceans with a tiny act of tidiness, urges Grandad Ron

“What I object to,” said Grandad Ron, looking belligerent with his hands on his hips, “is cleaning up after other people. And that’s exactly what picking up litter on beaches amounts to.”

“You’ll be telling us something that starts with ‘when I was your age’ in a minute,” smiled his son Ollie.

“You might chuckle, my lad, but when I was your age things were different – and that doesn’t mean they were worse,” said his father. “All this cleaning up plastics from the beaches stuff is laudable enough, but it’s starting at the wrong place. If there was less plastic in the supply chain to begin with, there would be less in the oceans to wash up on the beaches, and get into the food chain, and generally foul up the planet.

“The trouble is that we’ve painted ourselves into a corner. At one end we have Governments generating things like hygiene regulations for food packaging, which generate plastics, and at the other we have other people who believe it’s OK to toss rubbish onto the streets and in the countryside. It’s made worse by poorer countries which have other things to worry about – but it will come back to bite us in the end, you mark my words, because the poor old planet gets stuck in the middle.”

“Not everyone leaves their rubbish just anywhere, Dad,” said Ollie.

“Doesn’t need everyone to do it, son. But there are enough people doing it to make a disgraceful mess everywhere you look. I defy you to drive along a motorway in this country and find a stretch of even a few hundred yards that hasn’t got litter in the verges, most of which is plastics of one kind or another. Makes you ashamed. Well, it makes me ashamed,” he added.

“But we need plastic, Dad, for all sorts of reasons,” said Ollie.

“Do we, Ollie? Do we really? I guess you’re right – but I’d say that we don’t need them for everything. Look at free supermarket carriers. We don’t have them anymore and we’ve adapted to life without them. CFCs – remember those; once a vital element of making a fridge work? We’ve banned those, and we’ve managed to live without them.

“What we need is someone to develop a packaging material that’s biodegradable, and cheaper than conventional plastics.