Our Ambition is to End Plastic Pollution on UK Beaches by 2030
What is the cause?
The root cause of plastic pollution is the systemic over-production and over-consumption of non-essential single-use, throw away and polluting plastics.
The plastic pollution crisis is made worse by our ineffective recycling & waste systems, which cannot process the staggering volume of plastic entering the market every year.
It has been estimated that by 2015, 8,300 million tonnes of virgin plastics had been produced since large-scale production first started in the 1920’s. Of this, 6,300 million tonnes became waste, only 9% was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% has accumulated in landfills or is polluting the natural environment
Why aren’t things getting better?
Government’ responses globally so far haven’t stopped the flow of plastic pollution because they have focused on recycling at the end of a products life rather than reducing plastic consumption in the first place.
Plastic production is increasing all the time. Globally, plastic packaging production is expected to double by the late 2030s and quadruple by 2050.
The UK government is also effectively supporting and sustaining the plastic pollution crisis by providing the highest subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, which provide the raw materials needed to produce plastics.
I thought recycling was a good thing?
We can’t just recycle our way out of the problem, at the minute only 2% of plastics are effectively recycled and many countries have just decided to ship off our waste to developing countries who do not have the infrastructure to deal with amount of waste imported.
Recycling reduces both waste and carbon emissions, compared to incineration and landfill but we must first focus on reduction, reuse and refill of products before recycling.
What about biodegradable or compostable plastics are they better?
Well no, not really most of these plastics can only be broken down in industrial composters and won’t biodegrade for years if they end up in the ocean. Although bio-plastics produce less greenhouse gas emissions over their lifetime than normal plastics they still require a lot of land, energy and chemical process to make.
Instead of switching to bio plastics or other single use alternatives we need to start reusing and repairing.
It’s a cultural problem
The plastic pollution crisis is most of all a symptom of the disposable and throwaway consumer culture that dominates our economy, placing a huge stress on the world’s resources and contributing to the climate and ecological crisis.
What needs to change?
To solve the plastic pollution crisis, we need to reduce the production and consumption of non-essential single-use, throwaway and polluting plastic, and build a circular economy that ensures plastics are designed to be reused and repaired.
1. Legislation that ends the production and consumption of non-essential single use and polluting plastics
- We need an overarching policy and legally binding targets for the elimination of plastic pollution (in all its forms) and to bring about an end to the manufacture, sale and use of non-essential single-use, throwaway and polluting products.
- We need ambitious and consistent bans across the UK on all non-essential single-use products, not just plastics, and progressive taxes and charges for those items where alternatives are not currently available.
- We must end subsides to fossil fuel and petro-chemical companies which are responsible for the systemic over-production of plastics. Instead, as we build back better from the Covid-19 crisis, government needs to incentivise green industries which develop sustainable alternatives to single-use, throwaway and polluting plastics.
2. Legislation that ensures effective resource use and waste management
- We need to develop a circular economy which designs out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and actively regenerates natural systems.
- We need a UK wide ‘all-in’ Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) focused around the principals of reduction, reuse and refill by 2023.
- We need an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme (EPR) that fully embraces’ Polluter Pays’ principals, covering the full environmental cost of a product throughout its life cycle, from resource extraction to recycling and incentivising business to design products for reuse and repair.
- We need to end the offshoring of the UKs domestic waste and develop and invest in domestic systems which keeps this material in the loop.
3. Business models that are focused on reduction and reuse
- We need business’ that produce products which are fundamentally designed to be reused, repaired and eventually effectively recycled.
- We need business’, large and small, to collaborate with government and each other to adopt consistent polices that create a level playing field and ultimately reduce waste and pollution across industries.
4. Cultural change across society
- We need to encourage a shift in narrative that recognises that ‘traditional recycling models’ don’t present the solution to the plastic pollution crisis. We must instead focus on reduction and alternative systems.
- We need to educate wider society that plastic pollution is a symptom of our wider unsustainable consumer culture. All forms of single-use products and packaging contribute to this crisis.
- Communities and individuals should be encouraged and empowered to reduce their plastic and waste footprints.
What is SAS doing?
Surfers Against Sewage is a leading voice in the campaign to eliminate plastic pollution, mobilising and empowering a nationwide network of ocean activists to take action from the beach front to the front benches of Parliament.
We work in collaboration with partners to connect grassroot community action and businesses with policy makers to drive progressive government legislation and policy focused on reduction, reuse and refill interventions.
- Deposit Return Scheme Action
- Do a Beach Clean
- Join a Plastic Free Community
- Become a Plastic Free School
- Organise a Mass Unwrap
- We have empowered over 700 communities and counting to sign up to ditch single use plastics and become Plastic Free Communities
- In 2019 alone, we mobilised over 90 volunteers to remove 120,000 kg of plastic pollution from our beaches
- Over 2400 schools have signed up to become Plastic Free Schools
- SAS campaigners, volunteers and communities nation-wide have helped to ensure that the UK government and Devolved Administrations are now banning single use items including plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers
- Worked through the Ocean Conservation All Party Parliamentary Group to create a Plastic Free Parliament
- Our Message in a Bottle petition supported by 329,000 citizens and delivered to 10 Downing Street, has been pivotal in calling for a Deposit Return Scheme in the UK.
Plastic Bag Charge in England to be Extended to All Retailers and Increased to 10p
Today, 21st May , our fight to tackle the scourge of single-use plastic carrier bags choking the ocean has taken another step forward with the extension of the plastic bag charge to all retailers and increased to 10p.
Plastic bags used to be one of the most common items of plastic pollution washed up on UK beaches and strewn across our natural spaces. But thanks to the tireless campaigning of Surfers Against Sewage and the Break the Bag Habit Coalition the government introduced a 5p charge on single-use carrier bags back in 2015 for large retailers. This charge has started to turn the tide on this particular strain of plastic pollution. The main supermarkets have reported a 95% drop in plastic bag sales since 2015 when the charge was originally introduced and the Marine Conservation Society have reported a 60% fall in the number of bags on UK beaches.
The original charge though was only applied to business with 250+ staff which means that we have still been seeing too many single-use plastic bags finding their way into into the seas and rivers where they pose a threat to wildlife. The increase in the minimum charge to 10p and crucially the extension of this charge to all retailers large and small will help to close the net on plastic bags, and further steer consumer behavior away from single use bags to more sustainable reusable options. Next up how about banning the sale of these bags altogether and upping the charge on ‘Bags for life’ to stop people simply switching to using them.
Henry Swithinbank, SAS Policy Officer.
“We have already seen the great impact the 5p charge has had on our beaches and we are excited to be taking the next step to break the bag habit with the increase in the minimum charge and extension of this charge to all business.
The plastic bag charge is a great example of how action from the government can drive business and consumer change and ultimately help clean up the ocean. So, let’s now get going with implementing the Deposit Return Scheme as part of an overarching policy to tackle all forms of plastic pollution. The plastic bag charge has shown what we can do with a bit of political will!”
These charges, and even an outright ban on the sale of these items though won’t be able to stem the flow of the many different sources of plastic pollution entering the environment. That’s why we need business and individuals to say no to all kinds of single use items and single use culture in general, and instead opt to consistently use refillable and reusable alternatives.
To help us all to make this change we also need to see the government step up and implement their long overdue plans for a Deposit Return Scheme, bans on single-use items, and an Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme.
Take action to clean up your local beach, river or park and join the Million Mile Clean.Read More
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