If you’re lucky, you might be escaping to a beach, in Britain or abroad, over the summer holidays. The sun was out this week, and you might have had a chance to enjoy the seaside. What you won’t see are the tiny plastic particles that are contaminating our seas, rivers and oceans.
This pollution - microplastic pollution - is something that Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, which I chair, has been investigating.
Microplastics are small abrasive beads that wash down the drain. Most of us would be horrified to learn how many bathroom products contain this plastic rubbish: they are in facial scrubs, toothpastes, washing powders, household cleaners, and even clothes. Did you know that washing a fleece can release 1 million microfibres, which go down the drain, and into the sea?
An estimated 680 tonnes of microplastics from cosmetic products used in the UK enter the sea every year. There they are eaten by fish, shellfish and other marine life. Over one in three fish in the English Channel are now contaminated with microplastic particles: stuck in their stomachs, they reduce their ability to digest food and can stunt growth. They are also harmful to the tiny sea creatures that fish eat.
Microplastics can end up on our dinner plates, too. Scientists estimate if you’ve eaten six oysters then you have probably eaten around 50 microplastic particles. And we have no idea what impact this could have on human health.
Seabirds are also suffering. Over the summer, you might be planning a trip with the kids to the Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve. A typical seabird carries up to 10% of its bodyweight in plastic in its stomach - something to remember when you’re next watching the gannets and kittiwakes.
What can we do? President Obama recently passed a law banning the use of microbeads in cosmetic products in the US, with other countries following suit. My Committee’s report is out next Wednesday, but if you want to check if your favourite scrub contains MIcrobeads, the handy ‘Beat the Bead’ app allows you to scan a product’s barcode and find out: www.beatthemicrobead.org.
The EU has been crucial to cleaning up our beaches and rivers, tackling air pollution and protecting our biodiversity, and I’m concerned that this Government could sweep these vital protections away when we leave. Last month I wrote to David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, calling on him to commit to environmental protection in the exit negotiations.
Finally, there is further evidence of the pressure our NHS budget is under from this government, with the proposals to close King St walk-in centre. This is a widely used service and takes a great deal of strain away from Pinderfields A&E. I am concerned that the closure of King St will put huge pressure on our hospital services. I urge Express readers to sign my petition on my website - www.marycreagh.com/savekingst. We can only invest in our NHS, tackle child poverty and create decent jobs if we are in government which is why I am backing Owen Smith in the Labour leadership elections. Owen has promised to boost NHS spending by 4% a year and I believe he is the best person to lead Labour back to government.
This article was first published by the Wakefield Express on 19 August 2016.