How can we reduce plastic pollution in the oceans?

How can we reduce plastic pollution in the oceans?
Credit: Rich Carey

Barry Twigg, Chairman of National Flexible, explores how we can reduce plastic pollution in our oceans.

Barry Twigg

Our much-respected National Treasure Sir David Attenborough ably abetted by the BBC, quite rightly raised awareness of the plastic contamination in the world’s oceans. In doing so the programme instigated a dose of ‘Plastic Paranoia’ throughout the UK and many other countries to whom the series was duly sold.

But has the response been sensible? Have we actually taken any action at all to reduce plastic pollution in the world’s oceans?

Regrettably the answer to these questions is an unresounding NO. The major reason being neither Sir David nor the BBC bothered to tell us:

  1. where the plastic pollution originated


  1. what the plastic waste actually was.

Nevertheless, the conclusions by the government, the retailers, the media and the public was unanimous. Plastic was not just an undesirable material (particularly plastic packaging) but was a major threat to our environment.

The consequences have been a demonization of plastic bordering on hysteria. Every day we see new announcements by some government department, retailer, focus group etc taking steps to eliminate and/or reduce the use of plastic in their stores or the general community at large.

The plastic bag tax along with action from Iceland, Asda, Waitrose etc. such as plastic free aisles, no more plastic straws, a tax on plastic cups – these were all on introduced all in the name of reducing ‘plastic pollution.’

But what are the facts about plastic in the world’s oceans?

For anyone seriously interested in reducing plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and reducing any adverse environmental impact from food packaging please consider the following facts:

  • 90% of the plastic waste dumped in the worlds oceans comes from just 10 rivers all in the eastern hemisphere
  • Of the 8 million tonnes of plastic waste calculated to be dumped each year 4 countries;
  • China, India, Philippines and Vietnam account for 80%.
  • It is estimated China alone dumps 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste into the oceans

Of the top dozen most polluting countries in the world none are from Europe. 11 are from the eastern hemisphere, with the USA at 100,000 TPA – the only western country.

The Northern oceans do not consist of millions of plastic bags and discarded food wrappers floating around, around 60% of the plastic waste in the Northern Oceans is disintegrated plastic nets and fishing gear


The ‘Great Garbage Patch’ in the Pacific does not consist of millions of plastic bags. In fact, it can hardly be seen as it is made is of disintegrated micro plastic of which 40% is calculated to be from disintegrated fishing nets and fishing gear.

Despite the massive volume of accumulated waste plastic, it is virtually invisible to the naked eye.

Unfortunately, none of this information was provided in Blue Planet 2. We were led to believe all the world’s oceans were a great plastic rubbish dump.

So, what should we do about Plastic Waste Pollution?

Whilst none of the foregoing justifies the U.K and Europe ignoring the pollution in the world’s oceans created by plastic waste, it does highlight that we spend the majority of our time and energies considering the symptoms of waste and not the disease.

If we were serious about saving the oceans from plastic waste we would be prevailing on the world’s top polluters to stop their current activities dumping their waste in their rivers and demand that they process their domestic and industrial waste correctly.

Meanwhile what can the U.K do reduce plastic waste pollution?

The first step we could and should take is to ban the use of micro plastics worldwide in cosmetics, abrasives, agricultural products etc. These are the UK’s largest contributors to marine pollution.

We could also make all our sea going vessels register their waste on return to shore, as dumping waste at sea is our second largest contributor to ocean pollution. This waste is mostly what we see around our shoreline washed in by the incoming tides.

Finally, a deposit scheme for the return of plastic bottles would make sense. They are, along with milk containers, the UK’s biggest end use in packaging and are 100% recyclable.

We need to take responsibility and positive actions to eliminate plastic pollution and stop blaming the material.