The British government should divert hundreds of millions of pounds from its aid budget to help developing countries clear up their waste and reduce marine plastic pollution, a charity has said.
The development charity Tearfund is in talks with senior government figures, and hopes to persuade ministers to increase the spending on waste and rubbish collection in the developing world from a few million pounds to hundreds of millions a year.
Environment secretary Michael Gove has spoken recently of how he has been left haunted by the scale of marine plastic pollution exposed on Blue Planet 2 and is urging more of the UK’s development budget to be spent helping countries tackle plastic waste.
Tearfund argues the impact of increasing spending will be huge, tackling a public health crisis in developing countries created by waste mountains and contributing to reducing plastic pollution of the oceans.
The British government contributes less than 0.3% of its £13bn aid budget – less than £39m – to rubbish and waste management in developing countries.
Tearfund is pressing for donor nations across the world to increase spending to 3%, which would amount to around £390m a year for the UK, but which the charity says would have a major impact on reducing marine litter.
Joanne Green from Tearfund said many developing countries were trying to tackle plastic waste but did not have systems in place to deal with the scale of the problem. The charity helps support community groups in Brazil and Nigeria who are trying to tackle a growing plastic waste mountain that affects their health and life expectancy.
“In Africa 12 countries have attempted to implement plastic bag bans, for example, and so far only Rwanda has really managed it successfully. It shows there is a desire there and a realisation of the problem, because waste in developing countries is going through the roof. It is expected to double in the next 15-20 years primarily because of increased consumption, and as developing countries adopt western-style disposable economies:
“But they don’t have the waste management systems in place to deal with it. This is a major cause of marine litter.”
A recent study revealed that 90% of marine plastic pollution comes from 10 rivers which are all in developing countries; two in Africa and eight in Asia. The report found that the more waste in an area is not disposed of properly, the more plastic ultimately ends up in the river and eventually the sea.
Much of the increased plastic waste is from bottled water products. The Guardian revealed that a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, the vast majority bottled water, and consumption will increase to more than half a trillion by 2012.
“The waste creates huge health issues in developing countries because a lot of it is burnt,” said Green. She said 270,000 people a year die from respiratory diseases related to burnt waste. Other health problems were caused by waste plastic clogging up drains and rivers, causing life-threatening diseases.
Green said increased spending on supporting developing countries to clear and recycle their waste plastic, would improve local health and reduce marine pollution. “At the moment very little aid is spent globally on waste, and it is a problem which is growing hugely as a middle class develops in many countries,” she said. “The development community has not caught up with this and donor countries have not caught up with this; it is a public health crisis.”
Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, has been in meetings with NGOs, as part of efforts to stem the flow of marine litter.
Gove is expected to back a plastic bottle deposit scheme in the new year as part of a plan to improve recycling rates.
A spokeswoman for the Department for International Development, which manages 74% of the aid budget said: “The environment secretary and international development secretary are working together to see what more we can do in this area.
“Their departments have a strong record of work on the environment and development – and tackling marine pollution is a good example of where we can apply the government’s joint strengths.
“The issue will be on the agenda for next year’s Commonwealth Summit being held here in the UK, and that will provide a further opportunity to show global leadership in tackling this critical issue.”