Government sets aside £60m to fight scourge of plastic waste | Environment

The government has earmarked £61.4m from the public purse to fight the rising tide of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

Theresa May announced the fund ahead of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in London next week.

500 - Government sets aside £60m to fight scourge of plastic waste | Environment

Why is plastic being demonised?

Since the 1950s, 8.3bn tonnes of plastic has been produced. Plastic is seen as a versatile, indispensable product, but the environmental impact is becoming more stark. Plastic is now so pervasive that recycling systems cannot keep up and the leakage into the environment is such that by 2050 plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish. Last year scientists found plastic fibres in tap water, and plastic has been found in the stomachs of sea creatures in the deepest part of the ocean. Most plastic waste ends up in landfill sites or leaks into the natural environment, where it is causing huge damage to eco-systems on land and sea, creating near permanent contamination. According to academics in the United States, by 2015, of all the plastic waste generated since the 1950s, only 9% has been recycled, with 12% incinerated and 79% accumulated in landfill sites or the environment.

Why are the supermarkets under fire?

Producers of plastic include retailers, drinks companies and supermarkets. The Guardian revealed that supermarkets create more than half of the plastic waste in the household stream in the UK. But they refuse to reveal how much they put on to the streets and how much they pay towards recycling it. Supermarkets are under pressure to reduce their plastic packaging and campaigners argue they have the power to turn off the tap. Much of the packaging they sell to consumers is not recyclable: plastic film, black plastic trays, sleeves on drinks bottles and some coloured plastic. The Recycling Association and other experts believe supermarkets could do much more to make packaging 100% recyclable and reduce the use of plastic.

Who pays to clean up the waste?

The taxpayer, overwhelmingly. Producers and retailers pay the lowest towards recycling and dealing with their waste in Europe. In other countries, the “polluter” is forced to pay much more. In France, a sliding system of charges means those who put more non- recyclable material on the market pay more.

What can shoppers do to help?

Supermarkets are under pressure, not least from the prime minister, to create plastic-free aisles. A growing number of zero-waste shops are springing up and consumers are being encouraged to ask for products to be sold without plastic.

Sandra Laville

She is due to call on all of the 52 leaders present to sign up to the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance – a strategy to help developing Commonwealth nations research and improve waste management.

Four Commonwealth countries have already joined the UK in the alliance – New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Vanuatu and Ghana.

Downing Street said £25m of the fund will be used to help researchers investigate the issue of marine plastic from a scientific, economic and social perspective.

A further £20m will be used to curb plastic and other environmental pollution generated by manufacturing in developing countries and prevent it entering the oceans.

The remaining £16.4m will be devoted to improving waste management at a national and a city level to stop plastics entering the water.

Following vocal public support for the issue, the government pledged to match pound-for-pound public donations to tackle plastic waste via the UK Aid Match up to a total of £5m.

The issue of plastic waste caused public outcry after the BBC series Blue Planet II, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, highlighted the scale of the problem.

Speaking in advance of the summit, the prime minister said: “This week we will look closely at how we can tackle the many threats to the health of the world’s oceans, including the scourge of marine plastic pollution.

“As one of the most significant environmental challenges facing the world today it is vital that we tackle this issue, so that future generations can enjoy a natural environment that is healthier than we currently find it.

“The UK public has shown passion and energy in the fight against plastic waste, and I believe the Commonwealth is uniquely placed to further this transformative action.


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“It is a unique organisation with the strength and the commitment to make a difference.”

She added: “If we stand together, we have the opportunity to send not only a powerful message to the world, but also to effect real change.”

Britain, which is co-chairing the event with Vanuatu, will call on Commonwealth nations to follow the UK’s lead in banning microbeads and cutting down on single use plastic bags.

WWF chief executive Tanya Steele said: “This alliance, and the leadership the UK government is showing through the Commonwealth, demonstrates that we’re committed to being part of a global solution.

“Two billion people around the world lack access to effective waste collection, so much of the plastic they use ends up in our oceans.

“Devoting UK international development money to help poor communities clean up and better manage their waste isn’t just good for nature, it’s good for people too.”