Bails of plastic beverage containers overflow into the Drina River. The emerald waters now buoy a raft of plastic rubbish. The Drina River – which has an intense green hue due to the limestone terrain is a marvel for children and river rafters. The garbage from poorly regulated landfills pours a carpet of plastic and polystyrene pollution across the width of the winding watercourse. It took humans about 200 years to build the present global economy. We now have less than 30 years to build a future, unlike the present.

The Drina River in Eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina is crammed with around 10,000 cubic meters of rubbish after recent atmospheric rivers flooded communities. Rusty barrels and refrigerators gathered by the river and its tributaries are now trapped by a fence raised by the Bosnia hydroelectric plant, a few kilometres upstream from the dam. Unseasonable weather caused rivers in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and their tributaries to flood the surrounding regions. The floods have forced scores of people out of their houses. And out of the blue, temperatures dropped turning the rain into snow.

In 2022, minuscule pellets of plastic began washing up on beaches in France and Spain. The sphere-shaped beads that are less than 1.5mm in diameter, known as “Mermaid’s Tears”, are actually industrial plastic granules (IPG) used to make everyday plastic objects. The size of the pellets makes it incredibly difficult to clean up. Waves of these plastic pellets have polluted the sands of Brittany’s beaches. In Finistère they washed up in December. Later they appeared in Sables d’Olonne and then in picturesque Pornic.

Winter winds and ocean streams transport the “Mermaid’s Tears” and more and more plastic pellets are washed ashore. France’s Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Béchu announced that France intends to take legal action over this “environmental nightmare”. Environmental Forensic Testing has started at accredited laboratories that can fingerprint the waste and establish the providence of the pollution and the identity of the polluter.

Environmental forensic scientists use chemical data with available documentary records including industrial operational information, the chain of custody of waste from factories, aerial photographs, and insurance maps to reconstruct the circumstances that led to the contamination. By combining chemistry and operational history, environmental forensic scientists reconstruct what led to the catastrophe, when and how the contamination occurred, and the spatial extent of the pollution.

Chemical fingerprinting allows environmental management experts to investigate a site and track pollution sources to determine liability for the response costs of addressing the contamination. Campaigners are increasingly taking legal action in the fight against climate change. Climate change litigation has doubled globally. Greenwashing – a practise of touting operations as more environmentally sustainable than they really are has taken the spotlight in courts.

Scotland introduced a ban on businesses using an extended range of Single-use plastic goods since June 2022. In Wales, legislation for a comparable ban were approved in December 2022. They come into force later in 2023. This offers merchants a window of opportunity to make the necessary procurement adjustments and to find new suppliers. Single-use plastic straws, plastic stirrers for coffee and cocktails, and plastic-stemmed cotton buds were banned in England since 2020.

Data from The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs – a department of His Majesty’s Government responsible for environmental protection, food production and standards, agriculture, fisheries, and rural communities in the United Kingdom (Defra) – shows that on average, each person in England uses about eighteen Single-use plastic plates and thirty-seven items of plastic cutlery annually. The UK government has published plans to ban commonly littered Single-use plastic items, supporting their 25-year Environment Plan, and the steps needed to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

From October 2023, the ban will include Single-use plastic plates, bowls, cutlery, platters, and certain types of polystyrene cups and food containers. Campaigners have asked Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to consider bio-based, biodegradable, and compostable plastic as well. The EU has banned Single-use plastic items since July 2021, and its guidance states that “biodegradable/bio-based plastics are considered to be plastic”.

Wales and Scotland have both legislated separately to prohibit various Single-use plastics. The ban includes even those described as biodegradable. To be able to deliver on its ambitious 25-year environment commitments, the UK government is determined to reduce, reuse and recycle more in order to transform its waste industry. It is hoped that the ban will extend to plastic plates, platters, and bowls that are used as packaging, in shelf-ready pre-packaged food items, and those found in eat-in and take-out settings.

It is estimated that in England 2.7 billion items of single-use cutlery — most of which are plastic — and 721 million single-use plates are used annually. However, only ten per cent of these items are recycled. It is contended that if 2.7 billion pieces of cutlery each 15cm long were lined up — they would go around the world more than eight and a half times. From October 2023, people in the UK will not be able to buy these products from any business including retailers, takeaways, food vendors, and the purveyors of Single-use plastics operating in the UK hospitality industry.