Billions of bags and packaging, plastic bits, and other pieces of trash accumulate in the ocean and form a massive rubbish patch. Today, there are a total of six rubbish patches or ‘rubbish hot-spots’ in the ocean – North Pacific, North Atlantic, South Pacific, South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and Arctic Ocean.
It’s common knowledge that plastic isn’t biodegradable but photodegradable. Sunlight breaks it down to smaller pieces called microplastics. Fish and other marine animals then consume these tiny bits of plastic floating (or sinking to the bottom) throughout the ocean. They starve to death as their stomachs are obstructed with objects which their systems cannot flush out. Unfortunately, some survive just long enough to contaminate the food chain.
To prevent adding to the waste, communities and governments are encouraging their citizens to be more conscious of their use of non-recyclable and non-biodegradable materials.
UK’s Answer to the Plastic Waste Problem
In October 2015, the UK government implemented a levy that businesses with over 250 employees will charge 5p for plastic bags. Major supermarkets and retailers in the country use an estimated 7.64 billion bags in a year. Six months after the levy, the same shops reduced their usage to just 640 million plastic bags, translating to an 85% reduction in plastic bags circulated throughout the nation.
A 2015 report, published in a science journal, claimed that approximately 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in international waters every year. Because of the levy, plastic bags that end up in the ocean have been significantly reduced.
Indeed, the 5p levy has been successful in reducing single-use plastic bags and the litter associated with them. This January 2018, there have been talks about extending the levy to every business and retailer in the country, as part of the UK government’s 25-year plan in improving the environment.
Here’s everything you need to know to support the UK government in its plan to tackle plastic waste pollution.
How Businesses Can Reduce their Use of Plastic
- Shift to reusable bags and recyclable packaging.
- Reduce non-recyclable products from merchandise.
- Reduce use of non-recyclable coffee cups.
- Remove single-use plastic packaging for all products.
- Place free water refill stations in workplaces.
- Implement the deposit-return scheme for plastic bottles.
- Trial reusable packaging and product refills for shampoos, cleaning products, and beverages.
- Experiment with a “take-back” scheme.
How Consumers Can Reduce their Plastic Usage
- Segregate trash
- Bring own containers and bags when shopping.
- Purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass straw
- Limit use of disposable items, such as plastic utensils.
- Buy in bulk to avoid wasting packaging.
- Bring own mug or tumbler when purchasing drinks.
- Give up chewing gum (Gum is made of synthetic rubber and plastic).
- Use matches or refillable metal lighters.
- Avoid buying items with “polypropylene” or “polyethylene”.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The UK government has committed to preventing further destruction of marine ecosystems and battling marine pollution in its 25-year plan. A part of this plan is the continuing campaign for businesses and consumers to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic carrier bags and other plastic materials.
The 5p levy and the ban on the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing microbeads prove to be great examples of how the UK can successfully implement environment conservation efforts.
A Green Future: UK’s Plan to Improve the Environment
Other solutions are being explored by the government to further conserve resources and protect the environment—from industry innovations and government regulations to partnerships between stakeholders.
Businesses are already taking the initiative to help conserve natural resources and avoid further contributing to the plastic wastage problem in the UK and around the world. Consumers, in turn, are starting to get used to the lifestyle the 5p levy demands. But, a challenge is posed to businesses and consumers throughout the UK to scale up current efforts to help the environment.
Finally, the UK government, along with other sectors around the world, should prioritise the cleanup of the marine environment such as the garbage hot-spots in the ocean. Maybe someday, the 5p levy proceeds can be directed towards the cleanup funds, starting with the North Atlantic Gyre.
It’s not just marine animals that plastic is harming, rather the whole circle of life that’s being affected. Work towards a pollution-free planet. Reduce, reuse, and recycle plastics.