It is important to remember that both our terrestrial and marine environments are not exclusively for human use. We share these spaces with a multitude of wildlife. Experts estimate that up to a million birds and 100,000 marine fauna are killed each year as a result of plastic debris including plastic bags.
Leatherback, green and Loggerhead turtles can be found in the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Leatherback turtles have seen their population numbers drop by 95% due to plastic ingestion. Plastic bags appear to turtles as jellyfish, their staple diet, and being unable to distinguish between plastic bags and jellyfish, they will consume these. The plastic blocks their digestive system and leads to their death from starvation. Currently all three species of turtles are endangered. If plastic bag pollution continues, these species could become extinct.
In addition to the immediate effects of plastic bags and other plastic items on our wildlife, as plastic breaks down into smaller pieces, this results in ‘microplastics’, as plastic never fully degrades. This then becomes easier for fish and other marine life to absorb resulting in the introduction of plastics into the food chain with humans being the ultimate consumers.
Whilst emphasis is given to the effects of plastic on the natural environment and its wildlife, it must also be remembered that in encouraging the continued use of plastic bags and other plastic items we are also causing great harm to ourselves and our children even though the effects are not currently as obvious as those now seen in our wildlife.
As part of the Department’s efforts to reduce our dependence on single use plastic items and continue to protect and enhance our local environment, we would like to remind the general public of legislation which recently came into full force.
The Imports and Exports (Control) Regulations 1987 were amended, under Schedule 1, to include the banning of certain single use plastic items. A transitional provision was added which ended on the 31st July 2021.
From the 1st August 2021, the following items, made from plastic, are banned from importation in any number:
– Cotton bud sticks;
– Cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks);
– Beverage stirrers;
– Balloon sticks;
– Food containers made from expanded polystyrene;
– Beverage containers made from expanded polystyrene, including their caps and lids; and
– Cups made of expanded polystyrene, including their caps and lids.
The general public are reminded that no quantity of any of the above items will be allowed into Gibraltar and will be confiscated on discovery. Exemptions are listed within the legislation.
The Department of the Environment and Climate Change would also like to take this opportunity to remind the general public and all commercial entities that bags made wholly or partly from plastic and of a thickness of less than 100 microns are also banned from importation and will be confiscated on discovery. These refer to those bags commonly found in commercial properties including those selling fresh produce. Exemptions are listed within the legislation.
Please note that under current legislation, items referred to as “made of plastic” include ‘bio-based plastic’, so-called ‘biodegradable plastic’, ‘oxo-degradable plastic’ and ‘polymer’ based items.
For further information, contact the Department of the Environment and Climate Change at [email protected].