Do the manifestos commit to end ocean plastics?
No matter which party possible MPs belong to, or which constituency they are campaigning to represent, they all have a responsibility to help end ocean plastics.
A rubbish truck’s worth of plastic is entering the ocean every single minute, with devastating impacts for marine life. 84% of the British public are now concerned about levels of plastic in the ocean. Before the election was called, the Prime Minister told Parliament, “I’m sure that together we can all work to bring an end to these harmful plastics clogging up our oceans.”
With most manifestos now published and electioneering hotting up, how’s the common ground between politicians holding over the need to protect our oceans from one of their greatest threats: plastic pollution?
In terms of recognising the problem, Labour highlighted the need to counter the current situation where “our oceans are used as dumping grounds” and the Conservative Party pledged to “continue our work to conserve the marine environment off the coast of the United Kingdom” as part of a broader commitment to “leaving the environment in better condition than we inherited it”. It’s however clear that we’ve still got work to do to translate public concern and media coverage into greater political urgency over the scale of the ocean plastics challenge.
But what about specific manifesto commitments to protect consumers and marine life from the harm plastic is causing in our oceans?
The good news is that Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party manifestos all support the introduction of deposit return schemes (at least, that’s what we can infer from Labour’s unclear wording to “set guiding targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes”…) Before calling the election, the Conservative government set up a task force to look at introducing a DRS in England – so we hope this process will continue after the election and can build broad support for a DRS that works in England. There’s enough wiggle room to do this as part of the Tories’ pledge to “do more to reduce litter, including by supporting comprehensive rubbish collection and recycling”.
This also includes “supporting better packaging”, which when linked with the Tories’ ambition for the UK to become “the most innovative country in the world” signals support for sustainable business models. We heard similar sounds from the Lib Dems, with their aim to “cut waste, increase recovery, reuse and recycling and move towards the so-called ‘circular economy’ in which resource use, waste and pollution are minimised and product lifetimes are extended”, as part of a strategy to give customers and businesses a good deal. This includes plans for a Zero Waste Act to boost resource efficiency, promoting better design so customers can repair, reuse and recycle products more easily, and a 5p levy on disposable coffee cups to reduce the 2.5 billion that thrown away every year across the UK.
As ocean plastics are a global problem, it’s a good sign that all the major parties committed to greater international cooperation on the environment. The Tories’ vision for the UK that will “lead the world in environmental protection” is welcome, especially a government that “champions greater conservation co-operation within international bodies, protecting rare species, the polar regions and international waters”. We know that ocean plastic causes the deaths of hundreds of thousands of marine animals each year, and that there are plastic hotspots in all of the world’s major oceans, including seas within the Arctic circle.
Furthermore, the Conservatives’ restated 2015 commitment to “work with our Overseas Territory governments to create a Blue Belt of marine protection in their precious waters” is a welcome sign. Especially on the week we found out that Henderson Island, an uninhabited British overseas territory in the South Pacific, has been proclaimed the most polluted place with plastic waste anywhere in the world, with 38 million pieces of plastic found on the island. The ocean around the Pitcairn islands was designated a fully protected marine reserve in 2015, but it’s clear from the heartbreaking sight of crabs making their homes inside plastic bottle caps that much more needs to be done at source to protect biodiversity from the plastic threat. Engaging in international efforts is important, but global responsibility means standing that up with UK domestic action – like passing the microbeads ban announced last summer into law this autumn.
All in all: there could be lots more specifics on tackling ocean plastic, but we’re not facing any closed doors. While some areas of environmental protection remain hotly contested, protecting our oceans by tackling plastic pollution remains a shared concern. But there’s plenty of work to do to make tackling the issue a political priority that meets the scale of the challenge. If you’re game, why not sign our petition to governments across the UK supporting deposit return schemes to tackle the blight of single-use plastic bottles?
About Louisa Casson
I'm a campaigner in Greenpeace UK's oceans team, leading our campaign to create the world's largest protected area in the Antarctic ocean.