TF Waste Report : Ocean Plastic Conference confirms worst fears and offers solutions

Speaker after speaker at the packed Ocean Plastics Conference held in Falmouth on 21st July highlighted the gravity of the impact that waste plastic is having on the marine and wider environment.

From the humble lugworm which are ingesting minute particles of plastic to sea-birds and other sea life which are dying through strangulation from waste plastic in our oceans, the evidence that urgent action is required is now unequivocal as the problem moves inexorably up the food chain. It is estimated that currently nearly 40% of all species ingest plastic.

All three centres of scientific excellence – which includes Exeter University, Plymouth University and the European Centre for the Environment and Health (Truro) – have now all produced studies which suggests that no more evidence of damage is necessary – only urgent action to divert plastic away from our oceans, beaches, rivers and the wider environment. 75% of marine litter is plastic which fragments, but does not break down. 50% of plastic marine litter consists of single-use items

The most startling statistic of the day was provided by the Rame Peninsula Beach Care Group who carried out a Deep Beach Clean in conjunction with the ESI on 25th May 2014 as follows:-

  • 25 volunteers worked for 3 hours each over an area of 375 sq.metres in a cove in south-east Cornwall and collected well over 500,000 pieces of plastic, every piece of which was counted, analyzed and recorded for the research project

It was this work and the report – The Big Litter Pick : Plastic Pollution on Cornwall’s Beaches – that provided the impetus for organizing the Conference.

More detail on consequences and solutions proposed on the day will follow in an official report prepared by the organizers, but suffice here to say that Transition Falmouth has submitted some ideas for a planned Manifesto for Action, calling for action on a number of fronts to restore health and well-being to the marine and wider environment:-

Proposals for a


  • major awareness-raising campaign at both the national and local level of the seriously damaging effect waste plastic is having on the marine and wider environment
  • all plastics to be made of recyclable (or genuinely compostable) material (both household and commercial)
  • facilities to be put in place to enable all plastics to be collected or deposited for reuse or recycling
  • all plastic products to carry recycling information which is clear to producers, consumers and recycling companies alike to facilitate recycling
  • better design of plastic containers and packaging to make end-of-life recyclability much easier for all
  • follow good practice in Germany where plastic is routinely sent for recycling
  • outright ban on polyethylene microbeads (found in shower gel)
  • reduction in use of plastics – especially single-use –  in favour of more environmentally and recyclable/compostable alternatives
  • join the Marine Litter Action Network.

Some of the above is beyond the scope of volunteer groups, but we would suggest that to achieve some local commitment to take action there is a pressing need to:-

  • lobby Members of Parliament
  • brief the Transport and Waste Portfolio Advisory Committee (Cornwall Council) to put them fully in the picture
  • lobby local Cornwall Councillors across Cornwall
  • tackle supermarkets on their plastic packaging and recycling records

Final personal comment: for me and others involved this is no longer just a question of economics, but increasingly an ethical issue requiring urgent attention by Government, Local Authorities, the Plastics Industry and the Voluntary Sector. Interestingly the question of economics was barely mentioned even by the representatives of Sita UK (Technical Officer) and the British Plastics Federation (Director General) both of whom were anxious to see much more recycling and/or fuel recovery from plastic.

Phil Pearce

for Transition Falmouth

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