Plastics: Seas and Oceans

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 18th June 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department is taking to prevent plastic waste from the UK entering the world's oceans.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The UK is making significant progress in addressing the issue of plastic in the oceans, and is taking measures to stop plastic from entering the oceans in the first place. Our ban on microbeads in cosmetic and personal care products, one of the strongest in the world, came into force in June 2018. Our plastic bag charge has led to an 86% reduction in the use of plastic carrier bags and last year alone raised over £51 million for environmental causes. We have consulted on plans to extend the charge to all retailers and on increasing the minimum 5p charge to at least 10p, and last month announced that a ban on the distribution and/or sale of plastic straws, stirrers, and plastic stemmed cotton buds will come into force from April 2020. A full response to this consultation can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/gove-takes-action-to-ban-plastic-straws-stirrers-and-cotton-buds.

These policies are helping to deliver the Resources and Waste Strategy for England, our framework for eliminating all avoidable plastic waste. It builds on commitments in our 25 Year Environment Plan and sets out plans to maximise the value we get from resources, minimise waste, promote a circular economy and protect the environment better.

Earlier this year we published consultations on a number of key policy measures to significantly change the way that we manage our waste, and in doing so, prevent plastic waste from entering the oceans in the first place: reforming existing packaging waste regulations, exploring the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, and increasing consistency in the recycling system, along with a parallel consultation on the plastic packaging tax that the Chancellor announced in the Budget last year. We will publish the Government’s responses to these consultations on GOV.UK in due course.

Although 80% of plastic waste comes from land, 20% comes from ocean sources. Abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) accounts for 10% of all plastic waste in the ocean and presents acute threats to marine life. Through the forthcoming International Ocean Strategy the UK is committed to spearheading international collaboration to establish a detailed understanding of the ocean, with the aim of significantly reducing the contribution of ALDFG to the problem of marine litter. The UK also signed up to the Global Ghost Gear Initiative in 2016, a pioneering scheme tackling lost and abandoned fishing gear on a global scale. Through this initiative we are committed to working with our partners to address the management of existing ALDFG and the mitigation of potential ALDFG.

The Government recognises the benefits and importance of youth outreach and education programmes in tackling this issue. In 2018 a new partnership between the UK Scouts and the Government was set up to help young people better understand the importance of reducing plastic consumption and marine litter. The UK is also working in partnership with UN Environment, collaborating internationally with young people across the Commonwealth to support them in becoming leaders and advocates for behaviour change.

We are committed to our international work to lead action on the global threat of marine litter. We continue to actively engage internationally through OSPAR, the G7 and the G20, and the UN. In April 2018, the Prime Minister announced the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, a ground breaking initiative working with our Commonwealth partners to reduce marine plastic pollution. To help deliver this, we committed an ambitious package of up to £70 million of UK Aid to drive research and innovation.

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