Time to get drastic on plastic for the sake of our seas

Time to get drastic on plastic for the sake of our seas

John MacPherson/2020VISION

How plastic is affecting our seas, and small steps we can all take to reduce our impact

Figures show that overall recycling rates have continued to stall, resulting in a 'packaging waste mountain'. How does this impact on our marine wildlife?

Today, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has released the latest waste and recycling figures for the UK. Recycling rates have continued to stall, with only 44.6% of our waste currently recycled and the amount of recyclable waste ending up in landfill, or being destroyed, rising to over 15 million tonnes in 2016. The continued growth in our demand for plastic combined with stalling recycling rates has left us with an extra 226,000 tonnes of packaging waste to dispose of this year - leaving us facing an ever growing 'packaging waste mountain'.

12.2 million tonnes of plastic enter our seas every single year

How do plastics affect our marine wildlife?

All in, this is bad news for our marine wildlife. Did you know that 12.2 million tonnes of plastic enter our seas every single year? A walk on the beach alludes to the scale of the plastic crisis destroying our seas, the strandline choked with drinks bottles, lighters, crisp packets (yep, they have a plastic lining), plastic forks, coffee cup lids… the list is depressingly long.

Worst of all, this litter isn't just unsightly - it is killing wildlife. Globally, around 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are thought to die from eating or getting entangled in marine litter every year. In fact, studies have shown that 90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs, with scientists estimating that this could be as much as 99% by 2050 if things continue in the same direction. But what might our beaches and seas look like if we were better at recycling? Or better still, if we used less plastic altogether?

Plastic Waste

Zero avoidable waste

Today, The Wildlife Trusts have come together with other environmental organisations from across the UK to call on the Government to get drastic on plastic. The UK Government has already set out its ambition of zero avoidable waste by 2050, but we believe a concrete action plan and legally-binding targets are required to make this ambition a reality. 

Front and centre of these proposed targets is the desperate need to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics. This is a bit of a buzzword right now, but what exactly is a “single-use plastic”? Single-use plastics are any kind of plastic item that is used only once before being thrown away. It includes things like plastic bags, bottles, straws, cups, coffee stirrers, takeaway forks and most food packaging. Unfortunately, many of these items are not recyclable and so head straight to landfill after their one use. Even those that are recyclable often end up in landfill, with only 57% of plastic bottles currently recycled in the UK! 

Whilst we’ll indeed be working hard behind the scenes, action to tackle the plastic crisis destroying our seas starts at home – and each and every one of us can play our part.

So, here are some small changes we can all make to protect the health and lives of the incredible wildlife that call our seas home.

Refuse Single-Use Plastics

Start with the big 5: bags, bottles, coffee cups, straws and cutlery.
Reusable alternatives of these items are widely available at a low price.

Why not build yourself a kit that you keep in your handbag, rucksack or car? Grab a canvas bag, a metal water bottle, a bamboo coffee cup, metal straws and a bamboo or metal cutlery set.


When you just can’t avoid using a plastic item (or you forget your metal bottle!), make sure to recycle it. If you can’t find a recycling bin, take it home to recycle there. And remember to keep up the good habits when you’re on holiday too – most developed countries have recycling facilities, so be sure to check online beforehand how to recycle all those water bottles.

Encourage others to play their part

Family, friends, colleagues – collectively we can make a difference, so why not ask fellow wildlife lovers to take action today? Most changes are so easy that you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!

Could your workplace or club reduce their use of single-use plastics? Could you encourage the canteen to switch to paper straws? Could you use teaspoons instead of plastic stirrers or glass sauce bottles instead of sachets?

The Wildlife Trusts are currently undertaking an internal review of our plastic usage. A number of Wildlife Trusts have already put measures in place and we are striving to improve what we do by investigating further ways we can reduce our plastic use.

Check out our helpful guide that shows more ways to help the sea.