Imagine a species that decided to deliberately poison itself. What does this strange, irrational creature look like? Easy! Walk over to the nearest mirror and take a look.

After such a gross insult to human nature you might reach for a plastic bottle of water (carbonated or still) to cool yourself down. And that bottle in your hand would be the poison.

A few uncomfortable facts. Every minute 20,000 plastic bottles are bought all over the planet and by 2021 the number is predicted to rise by 20 per cent.

Last year alone more than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold across the world, up from about 300 billion a decade ago. If you placed them end to end, they would extend more than halfway to the sun. Oh, and plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose.

When we say plastic, really we should say polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which is highly recyclable. Sadly, less than half of 2016’s crop of bottles was collected for recycling and just seven per cent of those collected were manufactured into new bottles.

The destination of most plastic bottles produced is landfill or the ocean. The United Nations estimate that eight million tonnes of plastic set sail annually into the seven seas and that by 2050 the world’s oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic.

So what, we like to tell ourselves. The oceans are huge liquid lungs capable of breathing in our waste and exhaling it as perpetual bounty. Mother Earth can consume our wastefulness as she has since the dawn of time.

The truth, of course, is that plastic is now entering the human food chain and the water we drink at an alarming rate. According to researchers at State University of New York, even sea salt is laced with the stuff.

No one knows the potential effects of this pollution on human health due to a woeful lack of scientific research. We do know, however, as pointed out by the United Nations, that our plastic waste is wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and costing at least eight billion dollars in damage to marine ecosystems each year.

But enough gloom and doom. For (nearly) every problem there is a solution. Certainly it takes little imagination to think of measures that would be easy to implement and actually work out cheaper in the long run than drowning ourselves in petro-chemical based compounds.

Here are a few modest suggestions for York. Instead of water available in plastic bottles, why not establish networks of free drinking fountains all over our city and satellite villages? I’m talking about something as simple as a tap on a plinth that shoots up a jet of water.

This kind of public service would have benefits for tourists and locals alike. We could fund the policy on a national level by putting a whopping duty on all plastic bottles and cups, much as the Government does with other unhealthy products like cigarettes and alcohol.

Secondly, why don’t we look to the past to protect the future? I am old enough to remember the days of glass bottles for products like soft drinks and milk.

As we phase out plastic bottles, let’s bring back refillable glass. We could have a national scheme of shops everywhere that reward responsible citizens with a modest sum for each bottle returned. Back in the day we called it a deposit.

My third suggestion involves cleaning up after our own mess. Why not use the Royal Navy to trawl the oceans to retrieve as much plastic as possible and bring it safely ashore for recycling?

After all, RN vessels are regularly deployed to help in disaster zones such as the Caribbean in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, why not this ecological disaster?

As for excess packaging in general, that is a wider national and international issue mankind must also tackle urgently.

Humanity doesn’t need to poison itself so a relatively small number of people profit through the plastics trade. With imagination, persistence and the right incentives, we could clean up our environmental act forever. And time is not on our side.