The amount of plastic in seas surrounding the UK has declined, a new study revealed. Researchers believe the drop was caused by the previously implemented plastic bag tax, the Guardian reported.
The study, published in the Science of the Total Environment, is said to be the first of its kind. Researchers analysed data from 39 independent scientific surveys between 1992 and 2017. Across the 25-year period, researchers completed 2461 trawls and recorded the amount of litter in each square kilometre. Notably, plastic pollution items were “commonly observed”.
“Widespread distribution of litter items, especially plastics, were found on the seabed of the North Sea, English Channel, Celtic Sea and Irish Sea,” the study noted.
Over the 25-year period, 63% of the trawls recorded at least one plastic litter item. However, the study uncovered “an approximately 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed in a large area from close to Norway and Germany to northern France, and west to Ireland,” the Guardian highlighted.
The researchers believe the decline in pollution can be credited to policies surrounding taxes on plastic bags. “These trends were all positive except for a negative trend in plastic bags in the Greater North Sea – suggesting that behavioural and legislative changes could reduce the problem of marine litter within decades.”
The Guardian pointed out that the drop in plastic bag pollution was recorded from 2010 – the “mid-point of charging policies coming into force”.
“Ireland and Denmark were the first two countries to bring in levies for plastic bags from shops in 2003, followed by slew of other European countries,” the Guardian said.
Plastic pollution has the ability to impact marine life, human health, and the environment. The mission to reduce pollution in oceans across the world has been an “ongoing challenge”, the study said. “This problem has been at the forefront of several international initiatives”.
However, these conclusions may indicate the power of legislation and public campaigns. Robert Colvile, from the Centre for Policy Studies, told the Guardian: “These findings have reminded us of one of the fundamentals of policy – incentives matter”. He added, “When it comes to the environment in particular, pricing in external costs is better than heavy-handed regulation”.
The Guardian highlighted, “A UK levy of 5p per bag introduced in 2015 has already reduced single-use plastic bags given out by major retailers by 85% – down from 140 to 25 bags for the average person each year”. In a similar effort to reduce pollution, the UK’s Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced a nationwide ban on plastic straws in February this year.
Lead author of the recent study, Thomas Maes, told the Guardian: “The fewer bags we use, the fewer we can lose, the fewer we can put into the environment”.
“If we all work together towards a better environment, we can make changes. A lot of people live in doom, but … don’t give up yet”.