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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has just introduced a compulsory charge of 5p per plastic bag for all supermarkets and large shops. The move, aimed at reducing waste, follows similar schemes in Scotland and Wales, which have seen decreases in plastic bag usage by as much as 79% in three years. Prospective Lawyers should read about this law’s means of implementation, which is a form of secondary legislation.

While curbing wasteful activities has long been a part of effective environmental policy, limiting plastic waste is a particular priority, according to many scientists, policymakers and activists. Huge quantities of plastic enter our oceans every year, with one estimate putting the annual influx at 8 million tonnes. Geography applicants should read more widely about the issues of plastic in the oceans, in particular about the North Pacific Gyre.

The issue is compounded by the fact that once plastics are in ocean ecosystems they fail to break down. With plastics being entirely manmade polymers, no species has yet evolved to break them down chemically. The result is that they only break down physically into smaller and smaller particles. These, in turn, are ingested by plankton, and other small sea creatures, and stay in the food chain permanently. Research by the Exeter University indicates that anyone consuming the average amount of seafood will ingest around 11,000 plastic particles each year

Medics should consider the challenges with assessing the long-term health risks of our consumption of such amounts of plastic. Politics and HSPS applicants might think about how governments are seemingly more prepared to address environmental issues like this when they carry a direct potential human health risk.

In terms of long-term solutions to the wider problem of plastics in our ecosystems, Chemistry applicants should think about the plausibility of creating new materials which are less likely to do such lasting potential harm, while still meeting our practical needs. Those interested in applying for Biology or Biological Natural Sciences should look into how evolution might one day even lead to the digestion of plastic particles in nature.  

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