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How to cut marine plastic by two thirds

A deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers could cut marine plastic litter by a third, according to new research by the Green Alliance.

Previous studies have shown that by 2050 there could more plastic in the sea than fish. Studies have also shown microplastic debris in fish sold for human consumption.

Last month the government confirmed it would be introducing legislation to ban microbeads from cosmetics, and published new figures showing that plastic bag use has been cut dramatically since the 5p tax.

However, the Green Alliance argued that these streams represent a drop in the ocean compared to other sources of plastic litter found in the marine environment.

The think-tank’s analysis showed that the largest proportion (33%) of plastic litter comes from plastic bottles, consumption of which is expected to rise a further 20% by 2021. A DRS for the containers would therefore be “the single most effective action” in tacking marine litter.

The packaging industry, wholesalers and beverage manufacturers believe the scheme would be an expensive mistake, and claim it won’t reduce litter or increase recycling. Supporters of the concept, which has been rolled out in other countries, believe a deposit of between 10p and 20p could result in return rates of 85% to 95%, and the environmental benefits could be “significantly higher” than the financial costs.

A DRS is one of five actions that could help reduce the UK’s contribution to plastic pollution by two thirds, the Green Alliance concluded. The enforcement of Operation Clean Sweep to help cut the billions of pre-production plastic pellets estimated to leak into the environment every year is amongst the other recommendations.

The Ellen Macarthur Foundation has estimated that 32% of the 78 million tonnes of plastic packaging produced globally each year “leaks” into the terrestrial or marine environment. Plastic packaging is almost exclusively single use, especially in business to consumer applications, EMF has noted.