The introduction of a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles is among the measures which could cut marine pollution in the UK by two thirds, according to independent charity, the Green Alliance.
The organisation noted that while the steps taken so far, including the 5p charge on single use plastic bags, have reduced marine debris by around 2%, much more still needs to be done. The plastic bag charge was said to address 1% of the plastic that enters the sea.
Plastic pollution has serious implications for the fishing and tourism industries, and to human health. Keeping it from getting into the ocean is the most effective means of protecting the sea and people.
In a speech to WWF in July, Environment Secretary Michael Gove promised to tackle marine plastic litter as part of a renewed waste and resources strategy.
Green Alliance said that while Gove’s announcement that microbeads will be banned from rinse-off products later this year is a step forward, it will tackle less than 1% of the problem.
According to the organisation, other methods, which use buoys to remove litter from the open oceans, only tackle floating debris and so could only remove 2% of the plastic that gets into the sea. This is because most plastic sinks below the ocean surface or is ingested by animals.
However, deposit return schemes are already widely implemented abroad and have been very successful (nearly 100% of plastics bottles are returned for recycling in Germany).
Such schemes also provide access to more high quality plastics for recycling, preventing them from going to landfill, incineration or finding their way into the environment.
Alongside a deposit return scheme, four other actions which the Green Alliance said would reduce the UK’s contribution to plastic pollution in the sea by nearly two thirds in total include:
- Enforce Operation Clean Sweep to cut pollution from plastic pellets or ‘nurdles’ used as raw material in industrial processes (9% of plastic pollution)
- Enforce existing maritime waste dumping bans, using techniques similar to those used by Norway to enforce its fish discards ban (11% of plastic pollution)
- Upgrade wastewater treatment plants with sand filters to retain the microplastic fibres shed from synthetic clothes when they are washed (9% of plastic pollution)
- Expand the UK’s ban on microbeads to all products, not just rinse-off products (1% of plastic pollution).
"It’s depressing to visit a beach that is covered with plastic, and downright scary to learn that the seafood you are eating might be contaminated by plastic pollution,“ said Dustin Benton, acting policy director for Green Alliance. “The popularity of the microbeads ban and plastic bag charge shows the public is up for tackling these problems.”
"The government should listen, introduce a bottle deposit scheme, and enforce rules on sources of industrial waste. These simple steps would address two thirds of the UK’s marine plastic problem," concluded Benton.
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