World Oceans Day – from awareness of ocean plastic pollution to taking action

 Photo by  Kris Mikael  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kris Mikael on Unsplash

“Never before have we had such an awareness of what we’re doing to the planet. And never before have we had the power to do something about it.” David Attenborough
“Plastic pollution is not the material’s fault; it’s how we treated it that is the problem.” Professor Mark Miodownik, BBC Radio 4 “Plastic Fantastic”

Friday, June 8 is World Oceans Day. The very recent news of a pilot whale that died in Thailand after swallowing 8 kg of plastic waste, shows us once again the damage being caused to marine life and the environment by plastic. Although plastic only accounts for 10 percent of the garbage the world produces, it represents 60 to 80 percent of the debris collected on the seashore. Once released into the sea, plastic can cause injury and death to 267 different species, including 86 percent of all species of sea turtles, 44 percent of all seabirds and 43 percent of all marine animals. It is therefore vital that plastic is collected and recycled before it lands up in our oceans.

If we credit Blue Planet II by David Attenborough with the sharp increase in public awareness around the major threats that ocean habitats and marine life face – overfishing, plastic pollution, and climate change – China’s ban on plastic waste import represents a key driver behind the current political debate on new regulations to fight plastic pollution, both in Europe and in the UK. As shown by the interactive presentation by National Geographic, the majority of the plastic that ends in the oceans comes from China, with Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam being major polluters too. For decades, China was the world's largest importer of waste - more than half of the world's trash before the ban - and, at its peak, was importing almost 9 million metric tons of plastic scrap a year, according to Greenpeace.

UK consumers use an estimated 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year and more than three billion are incinerated, sent to landfill or left to pollute our streets, countryside and marine environment. To tackle this blight, the UK government has confirmed that all single use drinks containers in England – whether plastic, glass or metal – will be covered by a deposit return scheme. Back in in September 2017, The Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a plan for a deposit return system for drinks containers to be implemented in Scotland. The decision has been taken following the positive results of other countries adopting deposit return schemes. In Germany, for example, where a deposit return scheme was introduced in 2003, 99 percent of plastic bottles are recycled. In Europe too regulators are searching for ways to increase recycling of plastic and in May the European Commission proposed new EU-wide rules to target ten single-use plastic products as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear littering Europe's beaches and seas. Together these items constitute 70% of all marine litter items, making the EU proposal a key milestone in establishing a new plastics economy and stopping it from getting into the seas.

To read about the UK plastic deposit scheme: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/deposit-return-scheme-in-fight-against-plastic

To learn more about the  EU proposal for a single-use plastics directive: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/plastic_waste.htm and the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1516265440535&uri=COM:2018:28:FIN

To  read about China's ban on plastic waste imports: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/07/chinese-ban-on-plastic-waste-imports-could-see-uk-pollution-rise and http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/press/releases/toxics/2017/Chinas-ban-on-imports-of-24-types-of-waste-is-a-wake-up-call-to-the-world---Greenpeace/

And if you are interested in videos on plastic pollution: https://youtu.be/HQTUWK7CM-Y and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u01LS9enPQ&feature=youtu.be