I always try and pick up plastic on beaches and I love seeing other do the same. There are many organised beach clean ups organised around the UK and the number seems to be increasing. I’m sure that watching TV programmes like Blue Planet has raised awareness amongst the masses regarding the very real horror that is plastic pollution in our seas. There are all kinds of initiatives being thought up to try and reduce our reliance on plastics as consumers and even recycling is having to be re-thought. There are many places where only a small percentage of plastics can be recycled, and places where none is. China is no longer taking our plastics to recycle, so it’s starting to pile up. (The Chinese believe that our plastic waste is too polluting for them to recycle).

Only a very small percentage of all the plastic ever produced has ever been recycled – but the marine plastic problem continues. And whilst beach clean-ups are nice, the real solution to our plastics problem is companies taking responsibility for the plastic they produce. And that has to mean more than just encouraging people to put their plastic in the proper bin — which isn’t that effective.

Outside of Europe the real problem begins to materialise. Just 10 rivers are carrying 90% of the plastic entering the oceans, one study has found. Two of them are in Africa – the Nile and the Niger – while the others are in Asia: the Indus, Ganges, Amur, Mekong, Pearl, Hai he, Yellow and Yangtze. These waterways are filled with plastic litter — not probably because local people just toss it without care into the water but because facilities to recycle plastic don’t exist.

So perhaps it’s time to ask the question, “Is it ethical for a company to produce a product — especially a disposable, single-use product — and to sell it in a place that doesn’t have the capacity or ability to deal with that plastic? Surely by doing this, such companies are making a profit by selling something that they know is harmful. Surely this needs closer scrutiny?

When you read, for example, that The Philippines is one of the largest contributors of plastic to the ocean in the world then that’s really because of companies based in the US, Europe etc. We can all control our personal choices so perhaps more of us should be addressing problems that we can fix ourselves? Boycott certain products or companies. Find ways, however small, to reduce our reliance on plastic – single-use plastic appears to be very firmly fixed in the gaze of the Western world currently.

Some though, for example George Monbiot, believe that we alone cannot change things to any great extent. He believes that it is a mistaken belief that a better form of consumerism will save the planet. He sees the problems we face as structural: political systems captured by commercial interests, and economic systems that seek endless growth.

Perhaps if we all show solidarity we can get together and force companies to change their practices. Countries need to find ways to minimise waste instead of merely managing it. Voters need to put pressure on politicians and lawmakers to pass legislation that prevents the wholesale pollution of our environment by companies who serve to profit from that very pollution.