Will you help us win the fight against plastic pollution?

Plastic is everywhere. One of the worst hit places are our once pristine seas and oceans, which are now riddled with debris. We've all seen the shocking images of dead seabirds with stomachs full of rubbish, or poor turtles trapped in netting, unable to set themselves free. Shamefully, microplastics have even been found in the deepest depths of our oceans, where humans never step foot.

In the mid-20th century, the plastic industry boomed. It was, and still is, used in the manufacturing of a vast range of products, from food packaging, to toys, to building materials – it’s even found in tea bags. Plastic was hailed as a wonder material due to its malleability, durability and cheap production value. However, it’s because of these properties that we now face a huge problem: we made too much of a material that degrades too slowly. It’s being dumped in the oceans and is going missing.

Single use plastics are a big offender because we throw them away so freely and each of us are likely to use hundreds, if not thousands, of them a year. One example from the news recently is take-away coffee cups, which may have a charge imposed on them like we saw with plastic bags a few years ago. Every take-away cup that we buy is usually only being used once and then discarded, and many of us purchase them every week.

Single use plastics, such as bottles and food packaging, are some of the most abundant 

Because plastics are everywhere, it may seem like a lost cause, but people are starting to act – and we want in. In the past two weeks there have been a flurry of companies and institutions pledging to reduce plastic waste: Sky Sports, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Wagamama, Waitrose, Costa Coffee, the Balearic Islands, the UK government… and I suspect more will follow every day. I also don’t think it’s any coincidence that Blue Planet II won the Impact Award at last night’s National Television Awards. Aired on the BBC towards the end of last year, this series reminded us of how we lucky we are to live on a planet with such majestic beauty and diversity, but then hit us with stark reality that, because of us, we may lose it all.

Today marks a year since Sky Ocean Rescue launched their #PassOnPlastic campaign, to change the way that we use and abuse this material. You too can help the cause. It takes just one or two small changes to have a massive impact. Why not carry a refillable bottle with you everywhere you go, so you never have to buy a bottled drink again? Not only would you be helping the environment and wildlife, but you’d also save money – it’s a win, win. You can also nominate someone on Twitter to be part of the pledge, just as Olympic swimmer Becky Adlington has done to fellow athlete Adam Peaty.

But what about the plastics that are already out there? This is where we come in. With help from our friends, this British Science Week's citizen science partnership, The Plastic Tide, we are going to clean up the seas.

Drones take pictures of the coast, which the public then look at to spot rubbish and help the clean-up effort

The Plastic Tide are a charity made up of ocean, science and tech enthusiasts obsessed with working out ways to rid our oceans of marine litter and plastic. Their ultimate mission is to create a machine learning algorithm that can automatically detect, identify and monitor marine litter in images supplied by armies of drones surveying beaches. The public are asked to click on pieces of litter they see in an image – it’s that simple. But the rewards are huge. It offers, for the first time, a tool that can help us understand not only where plastics and marine litter goes, but what kind and how much.

During British Science Week, we have a target of 250,000 of these images being classified. Will you help us achieve this goal? By doing so, we can create a global map of plastics and begin an epic, coordinated clean-up. Every bit of litter that’s removed could have been that one piece that was ingested by a bird or trapped around a turtle’s neck, but is no longer posing a threat. One of the best things about the project is that you don’t have to live near a beach to help clean one up – you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

The tide is turning on plastic waste. We’re proud of The Plastic Tide and other organisations like them for helping to make our planet a better place. Come and join us in the global clean-up effort. We can all make a difference with just a few small changes.

Visit the British Science Week or The Plastic Tide websites to find out more. 

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