If you were lucky enough to get away this summer with friends or family, you might have headed at some point to the beach.
But whether that beach was in the scorching Med or soggy Britain, there is one grim factor that the coastlines will have had in common – plastic pollution.
Between 5m and 13m tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year, according to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Huge amounts of it float in on every tide along England’s Jurassic Coast, from East Devon to Dorset. It’s killing wildlife, poisoning whales, dolphins and turtles. It’s also ending up in our food. Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated that people who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year.
And the problem is getting worse. A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number is predicted to jump another 20% by 2021. Some scientists predict that by 2050 the oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish.
The UK has made significant strides over the last decade or so. In 2000 we recycled fewer than 13,000 tonnes of plastic. Today the figure is over 330,000 tonnes. But I believe we need to be far, far more robust in tackling this crisis. The single most effective action to reduce plastic pollution in the seas would be a bottle return scheme of the type operated in Australia and parts of Europe. The scheme works by adding a small tax to recyclable bottles at the point of sale, which can then be reclaimed on return.
Environmental charity, Green Alliance, say that such a scheme would capture about 95% of littered plastic bottles, reducing marine litter by almost a third. That could mean more than 4m plastic bottles a week being prevented from littering streets and marine environments.
Business seems to be waking up to its responsibilities on this. Coca-Cola in Europe now supports the adoption of bottle deposit schemes. It’s time that Parliament did too. When the House of Commons returns next week it’s just one of the causes that I am determined to take up.