Plastic Challenge 2022 - Bathroom Challenge

A Circular Ocean: Embracing a Circular Economy in the UK

2 minute read

Catherine Gemmell

Catherine Gemmell, Policy and Advocacy Manager

2 Jul 2024

You only need to watch waves crashing on the shore and retreating into the blue to begin to understand what we mean by a circular ocean.

From the air we breathe to the food we eat, we are all connected to the ocean and its cycles - from the water cycle to the massive circular migration routes of species like whales, turtles, eels and salmon. However, our economy is the complete opposite. We have a mostly linear economy where we make, use and dispose of products, consuming our planet’s finite resources.

We take, make and throw. Take, make and throw. Take, make and throw.

For the sake of ‘convenience’, the lack of forward thinking surrounding our current economic model has driven us into the climate and biodiversity crises that our blue planet is now facing. Our ocean is bearing the brunt of our failing economic system. From oil and chemical spills during resource extraction, to the end products like plastic causing death by entanglement and ingestion, our seas are paying the price every day. We need the next government of the UK to deliver a bold and brave shift from our current linear economy to a circular economy where we reuse, repair and refill, and nothing is wasted or leaked into the natural world.

Plastic Ocean

Credit: Naja Bertolt Jensen

We have already seen action to reduce parts of our ‘throw-away’ society, including the introduction of the 5p and now 10p carrier bag charges across the UK. Our Beachwatch volunteers recorded a drop in single use plastic carrier bags on beach cleans after the charges were implemented in all home nations. We have also seen success stories on bans of certain single use plastic items such as cotton buds, bowls and cutlery, as well as commitments to remove plastic from wet wipes.

Another internationally tested policy which will help us move to a circular economy in the UK is a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans. Now committed to being implemented in 2027, we call on the next UK Government to finally make deposit returns happen and help pave the way to a more circular society. Building on returning your bottle or can for your 20p deposit, we could then start to move to a refillable system which would decrease the amount of waste even further.

There needs to be a shift away from a model which only encourages more recycling. We will never recycle our way out of our current situation, which is why we need to make changes to the way we process waste (remember the old adage from school? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!).

Plastic Challenge 2022 - Bathroom Challenge

We want the next UK Government to support a ‘Reuse Revolution’ with ambitious targets for reuse, and industry support for implementing schemes such as refill, return and reuse. An easy example would be looking at policies to reduce single-use coffee cups. A charge could be implemented to discourage people using them, a discount for people using their own cups, and even better, a national reusable cup scheme so everyone can take part.

To have a safe circular economy in the UK where we can reuse products again and again, we need to think about the chemicals that are being used. Harmful chemicals have no place in a safe circular economy and this needs to be considered in the development of the UK Chemicals Strategy.

We need the next UK Government to be more like the ocean. Choose to reuse and let nothing go to waste so we can protect our blue planet for both people and society for generations to come.

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