Nine billion plastic carrier bags have been taken out of circulation since the introduction of our 5p carrier bag charge in 2015. A beach clean survey in 2016 reported a 40% reduction in the number of plastic bags found since the charge was introduced. Furthermore, research published by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science in February has shown that there has been a decrease in the number of plastic bags found on the UK’s seabed. In March, we worked with two trade bodies to launch an industry led initiative to encourage their members to extend the carrier bag charge on a voluntary basis. This initiative will further reduce usage, and we will set out our next steps in due course to extend the charge further.
Single use plastic items make up a large part of marine litter and are frequently in the top 10 of items found during beach cleans. The Treasury is currently conducting a call for evidence seeking views on how the tax system or charges could reduce the waste from single use plastics.
We will introduce a deposit return scheme to increase recycling rates and reduce littering, subject to consultation later this year. We will also ban plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers, subject to consultation and with exemption where use is required for medical reasons.
As marine litter is a transboundary problem we also work productively with other countries to address it, particularly through the Oslo and Paris Conventions for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR), G7, G20 and the UN Environment Programme. Through OSPAR we are working to develop and promote best practice in the fishing industry to address the issue of marine litter.
We published the Litter Strategy for England in April 2017, setting out our aim to clean up the country and deliver a substantial reduction in litter and littering within a generation. The Litter Strategy brings together communities, businesses, charities and schools to bring about real change by focusing on three key themes: education and awareness; improving enforcement; and better cleaning and access to bins.
Tackling litter on land will help to reduce the amount of material (including plastic) reaching the marine area, where it is much more difficult to remove.