Monday, April 23, 2018

UK Government Moves on the Horrors of Plastic Polluting the Oceans

Consultation Precedes Ban on Disposable Items
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – Having harped on for years in these pages about the needless pollution and slaughter caused by plastic waste which infects the seas of every continent, it seems at last that things are finally being taken more seriously at governmental level. Over 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enters our oceans every single year and now, speaking at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, the UK has announced its intention to ban the sale of plastic drinking straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds.

Inevitably of course the decision will be ‘subject to a consultation’ but the intention to take what is a comparatively small step, should at least be welcomed, with the hope that the move makes another significant crack in the dam wall of apathy obstructing true progress. The consultation is to be held ‘later this year’ and, subject to its conclusions, the government will ban the sale of these items in England, to go toward its 25 Year Environment Plan ambition to completely eliminate avoidable plastic waste.

Single-use plastic items such as straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds have a significant impact on our environment, both on land and in our seas and rivers when they are either littered or discarded incorrectly after use, with a recent study showing 8.5 billion plastic straws are thrown away each year in the UK alone.

The announcement comes as the Prime Minister urged all Commonwealth countries to sign-up to the newly-formed Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, the agreement between the UK, Ghana, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Vanuatu to jointly tackle marine plastic and take action, be this by a ban microbeads, a commitment to cutting down on single use plastic bags, or other steps to eliminate avoidable plastic waste.

To drive this forward the UK government has committed a £61.4 million package of funding to boost global research and help countries across the Commonwealth stop plastic waste from entering the oceans in the first place. This move is in an effort to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal, SDG14. Prime Minister Theresa May commented:

”Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world, which is why protecting the marine environment is central to our agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The UK government is a world leader on this issue, and the British public have shown passion and energy embracing our plastic bag charge and microbead ban, and today we have put forward ambitious plans to further reduce plastic waste from straws, stirrers and cotton buds.

”Alongside our domestic action, this week we are rallying Commonwealth countries to join us in the fight against marine plastics, with £61.4million funding for global research and to improve waste management in developing countries. The Commonwealth is a unique organisation, with a huge diversity of wildlife, environments and coastlines. Together we can effect real change so that future generations can enjoy a natural environment that is healthier than we currently find it.”

This latest announcement is the next move in the government crackdown on plastic, following the plastic microbeads ban, the 5p plastic bag charge, which has led to 9 billion fewer bags distributed, and last month’s pledge to introduce a deposit return scheme, or DRS, for single use drinks containers, including bottles and cans. It sits alongside that 25 Year Environment Plan commitment to eliminate avoidable plastic waste. The Treasury has also launched a call for evidence on how charges and changes to the tax system could be used to reduce single use plastics. Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

”Single-use plastics are a scourge on our seas and lethal to our precious environment and wildlife so it is vital we act now. We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use, and now we want to take action on straws, stirrers and cotton buds to help protect our marine life.

”We’ve already seen a number of retailers, bars and restaurants stepping up to the plate and cutting plastic use, however it’s only through government, businesses and the public working together that we will protect our environment for the next generation, we all have a role to play in turning the tide on plastic. There are over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans and every year one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.”