UK government promises to tackle ocean plastics

Published on
July 25, 2017

Michael Gove, the U.K. government’s environment secretary, has pledged action to reduce the amount of plastic waste in oceans, including introducing a ban on the manufacture and sale of microbeads, which appear in many cosmetics and personal hygiene products such as toothpastes and shower gels but are subsequently being consumed by marine life.

During a speech entitled “Delivering a Green Brexit,” Gove highlighted that 8 million metric tons (MT) of plastic are discarded into the world’s oceans each year, “putting marine wildlife under serious threat.” He also pointed to an 83 percent reduction in the distribution of plastic carrier bags by U.K. retail since the government introduced the GBP 0.05 (USD 0.07, EUR 0.06) carrier bag charge in October 2015. 

Not only has there been 9 billion fewer new carrier bags used since the charge was introduced, but more than GBP 95 million (USD 123.8 million, EUR 106.3 million) raised from the charge has been donated to environmental, educational and other good causes, he said.

“Last year the U.K. government launched a consultation on banning microbeads in personal care products, which have such a devastating effect on marine life. We are responding to that consultation today and we will introduce legislation to implement that ban later this year.

“But there is more we can do to protect our oceans, so we will explore new methods of reducing the amount of plastic – in particular plastic bottles – entering our seas, improve incentives for reducing waste and litter, and review the penalties available to deal with polluters – all part of a renewed strategy on waste and resources that looks ahead to opportunities outside the EU,” said Gove.

Also in his speech, Gove said that by leaving the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and taking back control of the United Kingdom’s territorial waters, granting access to other countries and allocating quotas on the basis of what is scientifically sustainable, the country “can ensure that it sets and follows the very highest standards” in marine conservation.

That in turn should lead to the revival of U.K. coastal communities, he said. 

“With U.K. control of waters in our exclusive economic zone we cannot just husband fish stocks more wisely – we can also ensure that we allow our fishing industry to grow sustainably in the future as well. Outside the EU, as an independent coastal state, we can be home to world-class fishing fleets as well as proving ourselves environmental leaders."

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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