UK Beaches Face Plastic Crisis

In recent months Bournemouth has been the recipient of international praise and awards for the condition of its beach. A poll conducted by TripAdvisor in February 2018 declared Bournemouth to be the best beach in the UK, the 5th best in Europe and stunningly the 14th best in the world[i]. However, the chances of Bournemouth maintaining the top spot is under continual challenge by a stubborn and abundant enemy; plastic.

Like many other UK beaches, Bournemouth has experienced a surge of plastic finding its way onto its shores in recent years. In fact, according to the Marine Conservation Society, the volume of plastic washing up on UK beaches dramatically rose by 10% between 2016 and 2017[ii]. Additionally, the MSC also uncovered that 30.4% of beach waste in the UK comes from the British public and 47.2% comes from unknown sources[iii].

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Plastic Pollution is a Global Issue

The MSC’s findings are representative of a wider proliferation of plastic waste washing up or being dumped onto beaches around the world. In 2017, Greenpeace commissioned a report to discover the magnitude of global plastic pollution. The report found that approximately 12 million tonnes of plastic is being dumped into our oceans every year, and this statistic continues to grow annually[iv].

Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Marine Debris Programme Nicholas Mallos shared his views on Greenpeace’s findings; “At this rate, we would expect nearly one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in the oceans by 2025 – an unthinkable number with drastic economic and environmental consequences”[v].

The economic consequences cited by Mr. Mallos are echoed within the United Nations Environment Programme’s report into the costs of plastic pollution. In which the UNEP outlined a range of financial penalties associated with plastic pollution such as loss in revenue from tourism and increased costs of beach cleaning[vi].

These warnings are certain to be of concern to the UK National Government as well as Bournemouth Borough Council. After all, the Environment and Tourism Services have been allocated the 5th and 9th largest expenditures within the Councils 2018/19 budget[vii]. With the Environmental services receiving the largest budgetary increase of over £1,000 between the financial years 2017/18 and 2018/19[viii].

National and Local Government Response

Councillor Mike Greene, Head of Transport, Cleansing and Waste at Bournemouth Borough Council offered his view about the biggest barriers to dealing with plastic pollution. “Without doubt, the main problem we have is education”, he argued, adding that, “Once people understand just how much damage plastics can do to marine life and the eco-system in general, they are only too willing to act responsibly and often assist in spreading the message”.

In fact, a 2017 survey by YouGov found that 51% of consumers would select a new drink in a recyclable container, instead of a recognisable brand in a non-recyclable container[ix]. These results support Councillor Greene’s views and suggest that the main barrier to resolving plastic pollution is the lack of environmentally friendly options available for the consumer.

“Across the world there needs to be greater governmental regulation, because we don’t necessarily as consumers have a choice”, argues Rick Stafford, Professor of Marine Biology at Bournemouth University. “The sooner things are legislated against, the sooner there is less plastic being made, the better”.

Recently the UK Government responded to increased public and media pressure by proposing a range of new environmental measures designed to tackle plastic pollution. Included within these proposals was a pledge to remove all unnecessary plastic waste within the next 25 years[x].

Yet, this plan has been widely criticised by environmental groups across the UK for being too pessimistic and focusing too much on long-term goals. Among the critics is Professor Stafford who exclaimed, “In 25 years seems like the weakest statement ever, if it’s unnecessary we should be able to do it in  couple of months, you know it should be that easy”.

However, the influence of big business may prove to make the removal of plastic from society a long and laborious process. After all, plastics appeal to brands stems from its durability, its low manufacturing costs and its close relationship to the oil industry. The combination of these factors mean that there is a lot of interest and money behind keeping plastic on our shelves.

In fact, a 2017 investigation by Unearthed discovered that household brands such as Coca-Cola, Lucozade, Ribena and Nestle resisted new environmental measures during a meeting with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs[xi]. Instead, these brands suggested that the recyclability of the product and its environmental impact was a low priority for their consumers[xii].

What Can Be Done?

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s annual report The New Plastics Economy has warned that the process of ending plastic pollution cannot commence without the full cooperation of big business[xiii]. To resolve this, the report recommended that policymakers at both a national and local level play a more active role in making environmentally friendly policies attractive to businesses[xiv].  

Councillor Mike Greene has suggested that Bournemouth Borough Council adopt similar measures; “With our declared aspiration to be recognised as a Green Economy Leader, I believe there is an opportunity for the Council to both do more and be seen to be doing more”, noting that, “I would like to see Bournemouth Council as taking a real leadership role, potentially within some sort of ‘anti-plastic-pollution coalition’ of businesses, community groups etc.”.

It is saddening that the intervention of national and local government is required to make the majority of businesses interested in being environmentally friendly. However, the involvement of government has become vital as only 43% of the 5 million tonnes of plastic being used every year in the UK is currently recycled[xv][xvi]. Hopefully with increased government action and incentives that percentage will have risen by the end of 2018.

 

[i] Traveller’s Choice Awards., 2018. Top 25 Beaches – World. TripAdvisor [online], 20th February 2018. Available from: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/TravelersChoice-Beaches-g1 [Accessed 1st March 2018].

[ii] Harrington, R., 2017. Great British Beach Clean 2017 results. Marine Conservation Society [online], 30th November 2017. Available from: https://www.mcsuk.org/clean-seas/great-british-beach-clean-2017-report [Accessed 28th February 2018].

[iii] Harrington, R., 2017. Great British Beach Clean 2017 results. Marine Conservation Society [online], 30th November 2017. Available from: https://www.mcsuk.org/clean-seas/great-british-beach-clean-2017-report [Accessed 28th February 2018].

[iv] Casson, L., 2017. How does plastic end up in the ocean? Greenpeace [online], 22nd August 2017. Available from: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/plastic-end-ocean/ [Accessed 26th February 2018].

[v] Winn, P., 2016. 5 countries dump more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined. PRI [online], 13th January 2016. Available from: https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-01-13/5-countries-dump-more-plastic-oceans-rest-world-combined [Accessed 20th February 2018].

[vi] United Nations Environment Programme., 2014. Valuing Plastics: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing, and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry, UNEP Document Repository [online], 22nd June 2014. Available from: http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/9238/-Valuing%20plastic%3a%20the%20business%20case%20for%20measuring%2c%20managing%20and%20disclosing%20plastic%20use%20in%20the%20consumer%20goods%20industry-2014Valuing%20plasticsF.pdf?sequence=8&isAllowed=y [Accessed 20th February 2018].

[vii] Bournemouth Borough Council., 2018. Our Budget. Bournemouth Borough Council [online], 21st February 2018. Available from: https://www.bournemouth.gov.uk/CouncilTax/Aboutcounciltax/a-guide-to-your-council-tax/our-budget.aspx [Accessed 1st March 2018].

[viii] Bournemouth Borough Council., 2018. Our Budget. Bournemouth Borough Council [online], 21st February 2018. Available from: https://www.bournemouth.gov.uk/CouncilTax/Aboutcounciltax/a-guide-to-your-council-tax/our-budget.aspx [Accessed 1st March 2018].

 

[ix] Smith, G., 2017. YouGov Poll suggest recycled bottles are favoured by consumers. New Food [online], 26th September 2017. Available from: https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/news/44561/44561/ [Accessed 21st February 2018].

[x] Chadwick, P., 2018. Government sets its sight on plastic as part of 25 year plan. Packaging News [online], 11th January 2018. Available from: https://www.packagingnews.co.uk/top-story/government-targets-plastic-part-25-year-plan-11-01-2018 [Accessed 19th February 2018].

[xi] Ross, A., 2017. Plastic Pollution is ‘low priority’ for shoppers, soft drink execs tell government. Unearthed [online], 20th December 2017. Available from: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2017/12/20/plastic-pollution-low-priority-shoppers-soft-drinks-execs-tell-government/ [Accessed 20th February 2018].

[xii] Ross, A., 2017. Plastic Pollution is ‘low priority’ for shoppers, soft drink execs tell government. Unearthed [online], 20th December 2017. Available from: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2017/12/20/plastic-pollution-low-priority-shoppers-soft-drinks-execs-tell-government/ [Accessed 20th February 2018].

 

[xiii] Ellen MacArthur Foundation., 2017. The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics and catalysing action. Ellen MacArthur Foundation [online], 13th December 2017. Available from: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/NPEC-Hybrid_English_22-11-17_Digital.pdf [Accessed 19th February 2018].

[xiv] Ellen MacArthur Foundation., 2017. The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics and catalysing action. Ellen MacArthur Foundation [online], 13th December 2017. Available from: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/NPEC-Hybrid_English_22-11-17_Digital.pdf [Accessed 19th February 2018].

[xv] Eunomia., 2017. Recycling – Who really leads the world? Eunomia [online], 1st December 2017. Available from: http://www.eunomia.co.uk/reports-tools/recycling-who-really-leads-the-world-issue-2/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].

 

[xvi] Waste and Resources Action Programme., 2018. Plastics in Manufacturing. WRAP [online], 1st January 2018. Available from: http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/plastic-manufacturing [Accessed 1st March 2018].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Caroline evans says:

    Great article

    Like

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