Time for action to end plastic pollution of world’s oceans

More than three quarters of Scots would support a bottle deposit return scheme in a bid to cut down on plastics pollution of the sea.

Plastic bottle floating in the sea in the Firth of Forth, Scotland, with the Greenpeace ship the Esperanza in the background. Up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the oceans every year.

Photograph by: Will Rose/GreenpeacePlastic bottle floating in the sea in the Firth of Forth, Scotland, with the Greenpeace ship the Esperanza in the background.

New research carried out by Greenpeace UK found the vast majority of Scots are concerned about the amount of discarded plastics clogging the oceans and most would support the introduction of a scheme to give consumers money back on their empties.

A poll by Survation discovered 90 per cent of Scots surveyed have concerns about the effect plastic pollution has on marine wildlife and birds.

In the UK, as many as 16 million plastic bottles go unrecycled every day. One year’s worth of the UK’s unrecycled bottles could stretch around the world more than 30 times.

Beach surveys suggest that single-use plastic bottles make up a significant part of the 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste which is estimated to enter the oceans every year. A truckload of plastic rubbish goes into the sea every minute, and can take more than 450 years to degrade.

Big pieces of plastic, or macroplastics, are known to choke and entangle turtles and seabirds. Tiny pieces of plastic, or microplastics, which include microbeads, microfibres or larger pieces of plastic that have been broken up after years in the ocean, can clog the stomachs of species from zooplankton to oysters and fish. Filter feeding whales and manta rays ingest microplastics which they mistake for food. Scientific studies show that polyethylene or PET, often used to make bottles, accumulates persistent organic pollutants which cause harm to marine life.

“It’s time for a sea change in our relationship with throwaway plastic. We’re currently discarding 12.7 million tonnes of plastic litter into the oceans every year,” said Willie Mackenzie, an oceans expert with Greenpeace UK.

“Drinks bottles that we use for minutes pollute our oceans for centuries, breaking down into tiny fragments that can kill marine life, disperse toxic chemicals and even end up in the seafood we eat.

Greenpeace ship the Esperanza passes Bass Rock as she sails towards the Firth of Forth, Scotland

Greenpeace ship the Esperanza passes Bass Rock as she sails towards the Firth of Forth, Scotland

“Scotland was ahead of the curve on the plastic bag charge which cut bag use, and can lead on stemming the tide of plastic bottles entering our oceans too. Our poll shows that more than 90 per cent of Scots are worried about the amount of plastic litter in the ocean and the effect on marine wildlife and birds.”The survey results were released to coincide with a visit by the Greenpeace ship Esperanza to Scotland to launch a major campaign to reduce ocean plastic pollution and call for the introduction of a bottle deposit return scheme. “We’re asking MSPs to listen to the 78 per cent of Scots who expressed a view in our poll, and said they would support a deposit return system. We urge the Scottish government to live up to their election manifesto and introduce such a system in 2017,” added Mr Mackenzie.

Environmental experts calculate a deposit return system would both reduce the use of plastic and increase collection and recycling rates.

In Europe approximately 150 million people already live with deposit return systems and they have been shown to increase bottle return rates to 98 per cent in Germany. It takes far less energy to reuse or recycle a bottle than it does to extract, refine and process virgin materials into new bottles, offering a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Conservationists claim there are also economic benefits to deposit return systems, including new jobs in the container collection and processing sectors, reduced costs of kerbside recycling collection and litter cleaning for local authorities and businesses, and increased footfall for shops hosting reverse vending machines where people return bottles and reclaim their deposits.

The Survation poll also revealed that 87 per cent of Scots have some concern about the amount of plastic packaging on products they buy, and 60 per cent said they are more likely to choose a product if the packaging does not include a high proportion of plastic over a similar product with a high proportion of plastic packaging.

Greenpeace claims that with mounting public and political support for the creation of a deposit return system in Scotland, the country can lead the way in dramatically reducing the amount of plastic bottles currently wasted and set and example to the rest of the UK.