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New Environment Agency team formed to tackle plastic waste in South West

Following the launch of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan last week, with a keen focus on what Theresa May called the ‘scourge’ of plastic waste, the Environment Agency has announced a £750,000 investment to address plastic pollution in the South West of England.

The money will go towards the creation of a new Plastics and Sustainability team covering Devon and Cornwall, which will collaborate with local authorities, businesses and non-profit organisations to help reduce the amount of plastic waste from the point of production to post-consumption.

Managing waste in tourist citiesThe team hopes to reduce the amount of waste plastics reaching waterways and coastlines by promoting better environmental practice in business, as well as engaging communities to tackle pollution at a local level, partnering with action groups like the Bude Cleaner Seas Project, which works to improve the water quality and cleanliness of the area’s beaches.

Announcing the news in Bude, Cornwall last Friday (12 January), Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd said: “Plastic pollution is a threat to our natural environment and our new team promises to tackle it head on. By working together, we can reduce the amount which enters our land, rivers and the sea and protect wildlife for future generations.”

The Prime Minister spoke specifically on the problem of ocean plastics at the launch of the Environment Plan, commenting: “One million birds, and over 100,000 other sea mammals and turtles die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste. One in three fish caught in the English Channel contains pieces of plastic.”

During the 2017 Great British Beach Clean, organised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), small pieces of plastic were the most common items picked up by volunteers. Over 255,000 individual pieces of litter were collected from the UK’s beaches in September, equivalent to 718 pieces per 100m, a reported ten per cent rise from 2016. Litter from eating and drinking ‘on-the-go’ - mainly plastic packaging - made up 20 per cent of all rubbish found. Also ranking highly on the list of most collected items was the plastic cotton bud, a product the Scottish Government recently proposed banning completely.

New Environment Agency team formed to tackle plastic waste in South West
Litter from eating and drinking ‘on-the-go’ made up 20 per cent of all rubbish found during the MCS's Great British Beach Clean last year.
Beach waste in the South West rose by 15 per cent from 2015 to 2016, despite a drop of almost four per cent across the UK in that period. However, results from the 2016 Beach Clean did reveal that the number of plastic bags on beaches almost halved in that period, thought to be a result of the five pence charge which was introduced in October 2015.

As such, the government will be extending the plastic bag charge to all retailers regardless of size, just one measure needed to achieve the Environment Plan’s headline commitment to zero ‘avoidable’ plastic waste by 2042. Also mentioned in the plan is continued support for the government’s Litter Strategy, with plans to develop a national anti-littering campaign and distribute a new £450,000 Litter Innovation Fund.

Howard Boyd added: “The government’s ambitious plan for the environment is a significant step forward, and the Environment Agency’s commitment to reduce plastic pollution shows how we are already working to put the plan into action.”

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