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Prince Charles backs bottle deposit schemes to combat ocean plastic pollution

The Prince of Wales has voiced his support for bottle deposit schemes that help combat plastic waste, whilst backing broadcaster Sky’s new ‘Ocean Rescue’ campaign, which is being launched to raise awareness about the consequences of marine pollution.

Prince Charles backs bottle deposit schemes to combat ocean plastic pollution
Plastic floating in the sea in the Firth of Forth, Scotland.
Speaking to Sky News, the Prince described the build-up of plastic waste in our oceans as “one of the most troubling environmental trends”. He added: “Eighty per cent of it is coming from the land as everyday products such as plastic bags, straws and bottles as they travel along rivers to the sea… They end up even on the most remote stretches of oceans, farthest-flung beaches on earth and the deepest parts of the ocean."

More and more people are starting to take notice of the issue of ocean plastic, particularly after the Ellen MacArthur Foundation claimed that by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the sea by weight. In addition, research by Eunomia Research & Consulting last year estimated that around 12.2 million tonnes of plastic enters the marine environment every year, making up around 95 per cent of the waste in the ocean.

Speaking to Sky to mark the launch of the broadcaster’s campaign (see below) to raise awareness of unsustainably large and potentially dangerous levels of plastic in the sea, Prince Charles, who has for decades supported environmental causes, backed deposit-return schemes as a way to mitigate plastic litter entering waterways.

The Prince lauded Sweden, Belgium and Germany as leading examples in combating plastic waste, where “deposit schemes exist for plastic bottles using reverse-vending machines, which take your bottle in when you put it into the machine.

“When they introduced this to Germany, the rubbish problem reduced by 95 per cent. It almost seems to me extraordinary that we don't look more closely at these sorts of initiatives which could make such a dramatic difference.”

He continued: “I also find it sobering to think that almost all the plastic ever produced is still here somewhere, on the planet in one form or another, and will remain here for centuries to come – possibly thousands of years.

“Some of that plastic is being swallowed by sea birds, by whales, dolphins, seals and other creatures to the point today where plastic waste is estimated to be in the guts of about half of all marine mammals.”

Deposit-return schemes

The prospect of deposit-return schemes (DRS) being used in the UK has been bubbling under for a few years. They work by having customers pay a small cash deposit of around 10 pence when purchasing a drink in a can or bottle, which is refunded when the packaging is returned for recycling – with the desired result of boosting the recycling quality and rates, while reducing litter.

In November, Co-Leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas MP joined other voices calling for a British DRS, noting that they are used in 11 other European countries with recycling rates for target materials in excess of 90 per cent. She introduced an early-day motion to Parliament, noting that plastic bottle and cans account for 40 per cent of litter in the UK, with a staggering 38.5 million plastic bottles being used every day.

Movement towards a DRS is most evolved in Scotland (though the Welsh National Assembly has also considered one) and Scotland’s former Environment Secretary, Richard Lochhead, called in June 2015 for a DRS to reduce litter and improve recycling. The idea has been consistently opposed by critics including the packaging industry, who assert that such systems would be expensive and undermine existing kerbside collection systems and those that use them appropriately.

Sky’s Ocean Rescue Campaign

Sky has recently weighed in on the plastic waste problem by launching an environmental campaign that raises awareness about the consequences of ocean pollution and seeks to alter consumer behaviour in order to cut down on plastic waste.

Prince Charles backs bottle deposit schemes to combat ocean plastic pollution
The broadcaster says it has made a start itself by ‘removing all plastic water bottles, plastic cups, straws, and using cutlery made from corn-starch’, and is asking the public to pledge to similarly reduce their plastic consumption.

The campaign began with the screening of the documentary A Plastic Tide last night (24 January) on Sky Atlantic, which outlines consumer responsibility and the risks of plastics to human life and ecosystems. The film will be shown again on the free-to-air Sky News this evening (25 January) at 8pm, and is available to watch on YouTube.

Jeremy Darroch, Chief Executive of Sky, commented: “The health of our oceans is in a dire state and we ignore it at our peril, so we are asking all our customers around Europe to help us to bring ocean health to the fore. We will put the full weight of Sky behind the campaign, and I firmly believe together we can make a meaningful difference.”

Prince Charles has signed up as a supporter of the campaign, and next week, two of the Prince’s charities, the International Sustainability Unit and Business in the Community, are due to hold meetings in London with a number of high-profile businesses to look at how companies can help reduce the amount of plastic in the supply chain.

More information about the impact of plastic on the oceans is available in Resource’s feature article.

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