That is why this Plastics 2020 Challenge debate is focussed on the growing problem of marine litter.
Over recent years we have all seen the images of large amounts of litter washed up on beaches around the world or floating in the sea. We have also been exposed to distressing pictures of marine animals such as turtles and albatrosses exposed to the effects of waste, much of it apparently plastic. As a result of this media exposure many people are rightly asking what is really happening, how big a problem is it and what can be done to stop it?
This is your chance to contribute to this debate, tell fellow visitors to this site what you think and suggest some solutions.
We can probably all agree that there is a real problem, but how and where do we start to address it?
Marine litter is a hugely complex, multi-faceted and increasingly serious challenge. However, the simple fact is that waste, plastics or otherwise, does not belong in the sea. Litter is primarily a result of human neglect and poor waste management and if we all acted responsibly there would be no reason for the large majority of it to be there.
Statements like this are easy to make but delivering on such a vision is much harder. That is why the search is on to find practical solutions to marine litter, for the benefit of future generations of mankind and sea life alike. It is a fundamental and urgent challenge for our global society. As an active and concerned member of this global community, the plastics industry is as keen as any to help resolve the issue of marine litter and start making progress towards a day when it is no longer an issue
There is much to be done.
Each year, since 1994, the Marine Conservation Society carries out its UK-wide Beach Litter Survey — and the results get steadily worse year on year. For example the MCS states that the density of discarded plastics in the UK marine environment has increased by 146% since the survey started. Due to the fact that it floats, plastic litter is highly visible and is often seen as the primary problem. In reality, there are many forms of heavier materials that are routinely littered, sinking straight down to the seabed and out-of-sight. But this does not mean they have magically gone away. Plastic litter is therefore, simply a symbol, or the visible evidence of a much wider malaise.
In its policy announcements, The Marine Conservation Society has set the ambitious goal of halving the amount of litter found on UK beaches by 2015. That date is only just around the corner and if anything the evidence suggests the UK is going in the opposite direction.
Therefore, as part of its commitments under the Plastics 2020 Challenge, the UK plastics industry recognises that it must help lead the search for joined-up solutions, that will help achieve less waste plastics in the marine environment and do so quickly.
Some progress has already been made by the industry. For example, under producer responsibility programmes introduced in the 1990s, the plastics industry is already signed up to spending millions of pounds on Plastic Recovery Schemes, aimed at taking waste out of the environment before it has a chance to reach the sea.
There have been other initiatives too such as Operation Clean Sweep, a best practice code introduced by the plastics industry to ensure its members prevent the loss of plastic pellets into the sea during transportation or down factory drains (that can also find their way to the sea).
Such initiatives can and do make a real difference but the industry acknowledges they are not enough to stem an increasing wasteful trend..
Marine litter is often referred to as being both a global phenomenon and a global problem. It does not respect national boundaries or territorial claims and often as not the litter produced in one country can end up somewhere completely different. Indeed, floating litter can be found in some of the most remote places known to man, sometimes in high densities, as a result of currents and tides.
This means that global solutions are needed such as those coordinated and advocated by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). But such agreements take a long time to create and even longer to action effectively. To make progress quickly we also need to be acting closer to home.
The Plastics 2020 Challenge thinks that the recent agenda and action plan produced by the Marine Conversation Society provides a useful structure to get the debate started and has much that the industry can agree on.
The MCS Agenda calls for
Business and industry to:
The general public to:
A few facts you may not know about marine litter and plastics
If society is to start to reduce the amounts of plastic and other litter in the marine environment, then it needs to start to work together in pursuit of a common goal.
That said there are a number of particular challenges that can best be addressed by certain groups.
The challenge for the plastics industry
The challenge for national government
The challenge for regional and local government
The challenge for the public
If you agree that something needs to happen to stop littering the marine environment, enter the debate now and tell the many visitors to this site your views and what needs to be done to put things right.