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How charging people for plastic shopping bags is saving our oceans

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Susan Devaney
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A big drop in plastic bags in the seas around the UK is being credited to the government’s 5p levy charge. 

From scientists discovering that the Great Pacific garbage patch is now nearly three times the size of France, to news plastic waste looks set to treble within the decade if we don’t act now, the ongoing conversation around plastic waste has left us feeling very concerned for the future of our planet.

However, in the first study of its kind, scientists have found an approximately 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed. And, the authors of the study, have credited the drop (measured from 2010) to the introduction of the plastic bag levy across Europe.

The levy, which was introduced in 2015 in the UK, has reduced single-use plastic bags given to shoppers by 85% - a reduction of 140 to 25 bags for the average person each year. Currently, the policy only applies to major retailers, but the government is in talks to extend the levy to all shops.

“The fewer bags we use, the fewer we can lose, the fewer we can put into the environment,” said Thomas Maes of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, lead author of the study.

“If we all work together towards a better environment, we can make changes. A lot of people live in doom, but … don’t give up yet.”

12 million tonnes of plastic rubbish is being dumped into the oceans every single year, according to Greenpeace UK

Earlier this year, Theresa May tweeted about the government’s stance on reducing single-use plastic throughout the country by highlighting the success of the plastic bag levy.

“In 2015 we introduced the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags, we now see 9 billion fewer bags being used. It’s making a real difference. We want to do the same with single use plastics. Nobody who watched Blue Planet 2 will doubt the need for us to do something - and we will.”

There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of eliminating plastic from our oceans, but it’s a step in the right in direction.

“Our seabeds are becoming dumping grounds for plastic, which is proving devastating for wildlife. Out of sight, shouldn’t mean out of mind,” says Dr Lyndsey Dodds, head of marine policy at WWF.

“Taxes and levies are a good step – the reduction in plastic bags entering the ocean is proof of this – but we need the government to be thinking bigger and putting an end to the use of all avoidable single-use plastic by 2025.”

You can find out more on how to reduce your own plastic usage here.

Images: Unsplash 

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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