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Plastics: Seas and Oceans

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN HL3729, tabled on 4 November 2021

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to remove masses of plastic from the oceans.

Answered on

18 November 2021

Plastic pollution in the ocean is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world today, with estimates suggesting that around 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year, a figure that is predicted to increase three-fold between 2016 and 2040. This is why there is an immediate need to better manage plastic waste and prevent plastic pollution from entering ocean in the first place.

Domestically, the UK supports the Fishing for Litter scheme, a voluntary, unpaid litter bycatch removal scheme by commercial fishermen, run by Komunernes International Miljøorganisation (KIMO), which provides fishing boats with bags to dispose of marine-sourced litter collected during normal fishing operations and the development of similar local schemes. In 2019, we changed marine licensing measures to make it easier for divers to recover marine litter, including abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear. We also support and endorse national clean up campaigns such as the Great British Beach Clean, and the UK Government funds the Marine Conservation Society to record litter from sections of our coasts which helps us monitor the levels and trends of plastic pollution across several years. This data is used in combination with other monitoring data to inform our decisions about how to tackle marine litter.

Additionally, our 25 Year Environment Plan establishes our target of reducing all forms of marine plastic pollution where possible, and our Resources and Waste Strategy sets out how we will achieve this, including through consulting on measures such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for fishing gear by 2022 to ensure that fishing gear that is no longer fit for purpose is disposed of correctly and is prevented from polluting the ocean.

Internationally, the UK has supported the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) since 2018. GPAP brings together world leaders, decision-makers and industry to take collaborative action on tackling plastic pollution in developing countries. The UK are active members of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI): a pioneering alliance of the fishing industry, private companies, NGOs and Governments working to solve the global problem of ghost fishing gear. The UK also launched the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance in 2018, along with our co-chair Vanuatu, to reduce marine plastic pollution. Since its launch, 34 Commonwealth member states have united to take action on tackling plastic pollution.

Furthermore, the UK has co-sponsored a resolution to start negotiations for a new internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution at the United Nations Environment Assembly. A new international instrument would build upon the important work we are doing to tackle marine litter both domestically and internationally and support our commitments to reduce additional plastic pollution in the ocean to zero.