“Here are a couple of empties you left behind,? said Gerry. What he really meant, of course, was: ?Look, I?ve had to clean up your litter, you slob.? I couldn?t help bristling. The two empty shotgun cartridge cases in question were made of paper, I pointed out. We had been shooting under the moon and it can be very difficult in such circumstances to catch all your empties. The possibility of not retrieving every empty is one of the very reasons I prefer
paper cases. And I always try to use fibre wads, too. Most of my cartridges are biodegradable.

None of this cut any ice with Gerry. ?They?re not fully biodegradable,? he said of my paper cases. ?Look, the heads are brass. You shouldn?t be leaving such things on pasture where there is livestock.?

As it happens, I have four of the same spent paper cases rolling around in the open back of my pickup. Within a week, I noticed, their ostensibly brass heads were spotted with rust. I have now buried a couple of these cases in the soil, with the spot carefully marked, and I am going to monitor their deterioration. This is my own little version of a body farm. I am praying for the complete disintegration of the cases. When little more than rust and dust is left, I intend to scoop it into a small plastic evidence bag and post it to Gerry ? together with a note telling him to put it in his pipe and smoke it. Ha!

A rogue plastic case

In the meantime, I am delighted to say that I caught Gerry out. He was using a semi-auto .410 to shoot pheasants (no, don?t ask…) and after I had sneakily searched where he had been standing, I found one of his empty cases. It was plastic, and not a lot bigger than the end of a pencil. Being dark green it was actually very hard to see, so perhaps one could forgive Gerry. If one was inclined to be forgiving, that is.

I marched over to him, holding the spent case as one might hold a used needle and syringe, and said: ?Lucky I found this. It could have done real damage if a cow had eaten it.? I then loftily expounded on our responsibilities to the wider environment.

At the same time, this really has got me thinking about plastic. Most plastic is virtually indestructible. Some types are now labelled ?photodegradable?, but this seems a bit of a cop-out, as far as I can tell, because it seems to mean no more than the wretched stuff will eventually break down into tiny pieces which will remain in the soil for ever more.

Furthermore, I have seen for myself that tree shelters, which are made
from this type of plastic, seem to remain intact for far longer than the
manufacturers claim.

There is some plastic that is supposed to be truly biodegradable, but there is a lot of controversy about the manufacturer?s claims and, given the timescales involved, nobody seem to be quite sure what the side effects might be.

What we can be sure of is that plastic is a serious form of pollution. I once saw a deeply depressing television documentary about the amount of plastic waste ? chiefly bags ? that is now floating around our oceans. These placky bags are everywhere ? even in the Arctic ? and they snare and strangle all sorts of wildlife. Even when marine plastic breaks down into tiny granules, it is concentred by ocean currents into zones of ?plastic soup?, one of which is twice the size of Texas.

Back on land, most plastic waste is simply buried in landfill, where it remains for our children?s children?s children to worry about. Some is incinerated ? in which case it releases all sorts of toxic fumes.

Which brings us back to shotgun ammunition. The more I think about it, the use of plastic for shotgun cartridges and wadding is pretty indefensible, isn?t it?

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