UK needs bottle deposit scheme to cut plastic litter in oceans, says thinktank | Environment

Plastic marine litter could be cut significantly if the government adopted a bottle deposit scheme as part of five key actions to tackle pollution of the oceans, a green thinktank has said.

The single most effective action to reduce plastic pollution in the seas would be a container return scheme along the lines of those run in large parts of Europe, north America and Australia, according to a new analysis by Green Alliance. In such schemes, a small tax is added to recyclable and reusable containers at the point of sale, which consumers can reclaim by returning them.

The thinktank says its own research – using data from Australian analysis – shows 33% of plastic marine pollution comes from littering of drinks bottles.

They say a deposit scheme would capture about 95% of littered plastic bottles – reducing marine litter by almost a third.

Green Alliance said announcements by the new environment secretary Michael Gove promising to tackle marine litter, and his announcement that the government is to legislate to ban microbeads in cosmetic products, were a step forward.

But it said the government could go further by adopting its five key measures.

As well as a deposit scheme, they are calling for the government to:

  • Enforce Operation Clean Sweep – a voluntary industry initiative to reduce pollution from plastic pellets known as nurdles – responsible for 9% of marine plastic pollution.
  • Enforce existing maritime dumping bans.
  • Upgrade wastewater treatment plants with sand filters to catch microplastic fibres from synthetic clothes when they are washed.
  • Expand the ban on microbeads to all products – not just cosmetic rinse-off face washes and other wash-off products.

The Guardian revealed new figures last month which show a million plastic bottles are bought every minute across the globe and that production will increase 20% by 2021. Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles. Instead most plastic bottles ended up in landfill or in the ocean.

Dustin Benton, acting policy director of Green Alliance, said: “It is depressing to visit a beach that is covered in plastic and downright scary to learn that the seafood you are eating might be contaminated by plastic pollution.

“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.”

They compared the leakage into the marine environment of nurdles, used as raw material in industrial processes, as a clear case of industrial pollution.

“We don’t stand for that anywhere else. We should not stand for it with plastic,” said Benton.

Between 5m and 13m tonnes of plastic leaks into the world’s oceans each year to be ingested by sea birds, fish and other organisms, and by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish, according to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Experts estimate plastic is ingested by 31 species of marine mammal and more than 100 species of sea birds.

In an interview with Sky, Gove indicated he supported a bottle deposit scheme. He told the broadcaster it was a “great idea”, but said it was important to make sure it would work properly before guaranteeing its implementation.

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