Cutting ocean plastic pollution can start at home – all our homes – says new report

Jack Versiani Holt By: Jack Versiani Holt
Date posted: 27 October 2017

New figures released today shine a light on the massive scale of the single use plastic problem in Europe, a problem that is contributing significantly to the global ocean plastic pollution crisis.

Plastic Bag underwater
© Rich Carey / Shutterstock

Behaviour changes can make a real impact on the amount of plastic getting into our oceans. Of course we can’t change what’s already been done but we can make a real impact going forward. Plastic bag charges in the UK have already dramatically reduced the number of bags on our beaches and legislation on microbeads will stop millions of bits of plastic being flushed into our drains and then ending up in our seas.

Laura Foster,
Head of Pollution

Umbrella organisation of environmental NGOs, Seas At Risk, launched the new study that provides some damning figures of the quantities of single-use plastic items at a time when ocean plastic is rarely off the mainstream news agenda.

The report focuses on items that are a common feature of all European lives - items which Seas at Risk say could be easily be addressed with existing policy solutions.

The study estimates that, consumed annually in European Union member states are

These kinds of single use items represent a huge waste of resources, a cost to taxpayers for waste treatment, and account for roughly 50% of beach litter in Europe.

MCS Head of Pollution, Dr Laura Foster, says: “We welcome the report because it shows the alarming amount of single use packaging used across Europe. Plastic production has increased exponentially. This increase is reflected in our annual Beachwatch surveys- which show plastic pollution has increased by nearly a fifth over the last decade alone around the UK. The report also makes it clear that there are some simple steps that can be taken to reduce the amount and the impact of single use items.

Behaviour changes can make a real impact on the amount of plastic getting into our oceans. Of course we can’t change what’s already been done but we can make a real impact going forward. Plastic bag charges in the UK have already dramatically reduced the number of bags on our beaches and legislation on microbeads will stop millions of bits of plastic being flushed into our drains and then ending up in our seas.

European governments need to recognise that people are happy to make changes and bringing in laws to reduce the amount of plastic getting into our ocean will be personal vote winners and environmental game changes.

We would like to see targeted reduction for single use plastic items- much of this plastic is used for minutes, but will remain in the environment for hundreds or thousands of years.”

The report also investigates solutions to this problem, and highlights some pioneering initiatives to reduce plastic use. Examples include bottle deposit refund systems in Norway, city initiatives to promote tap water on the go, standardised reusable coffee cups in Freiburg, Germany, municipal bans on disposable plastic at events in Munich, and the French ban on disposable plastic tableware.

The most readily available solution is for the European plastic bag directive to be extended to other kinds of single use items. This would oblige member states to reduce the number of these items to reach a per capita target, which could be achieved through an outright ban, or by adding a small charge on the product. The study highlights that these measures were incredibly successful for reducing plastic bags, resulting in a drop of 80% used in Scotland. Measures such as charges on bags or deposit refunds on beverage bottles are also very popular with the public where implemented.

The European Commission is currently developing a Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy, which is a key opportunity to reduce the massive numbers of needless single use plastic items that are polluting our oceans.

Emma Priestland, marine litter policy officer for Seas At Risk said ‘Until now we had no idea of the scale of consumption of single use plastics. The numbers are staggering; it’s no wonder that on average 50% of beach litter is single-use plastic. The European Union and national governments can and must take legal action now to reduce the use of single-use plastics. This study points us to some very workable solutions.’

Actions you can take

  1. Download our straw poster
  2. Report your #wildbottlesighting using our form
  3. Download straw graphic for cafe/bar counter
  4. Join the Plastic Challenge
  5. Help stop the plastic tide
  6. Refuse straws at your local restaurant/bar
  7. Share #stopsucking
  8. See our map of reported bottle sightings
  9. Take your own reusable bottle out and about
  10. Learn about Deposit Return Systems

Did you know?…

Plastic has been found in the stomachs of almost all marine species including fish, birds, whales, dolphins, seals and turtles

To date, our beach cleans have removed 6 million pieces of litter

Since the carrier bag charge came in across the UK, the Great British Beach Clean has recorded 40% fewer bags on beaches