It‚’s been called a new Pandemic for the Ocean. Masks, gloves and other PPE are being dropped and littered in our environment at an alarming rate. This causes a myriad of issues, compromising the health of humans and animals amidst even more microplastics sources, as well as the economy. Furthermore, the use of single-use plastic items such as cups and bottles has escalated as reusables are feared to be conduits to the virus.
In September 2020‚’s annual UK beach clean, The Marine Conservation Society saw PPE in 1/3 of locations cleared, when mandatory face coverings only became law late July. CPRE, the countryside charity, reports 75% of the population have spotted this new kind of litter around. Additionally, sewerage systems – and hence our waterways, river banks and oceans – are being compromised as even more wet-wipes are flushed down toilets in our bid for greater personal hygiene.
But animals frequently mistake litter in the environment for food, filling their stomachs with materials that will not break down. A lot of our litter today produces microplastics that will stay in our ecosystem for hundreds of years, ingested by humans with as yet unknown effects. Moreover, littering and inappropriate waste management costs our economy billions annually, through dampened property values, escalated crime, traffic accidents, wildfires, and lost tourism.
Government action on waste and litter management overall has long been failing, and the pandemic has served to highlight this.
Yet now, more than ever, the UK has an opportunity to stake global leadership in this arena, as the soon-to-be host of a key international environmental conference in Glasgow, and newly independent nation carving their global identity. Going beyond the policies on waste outlined in the 2020 Environment Bill, the government has the chance to give credibility to a Green Recovery.