Climate Action

Plastic bag waste is declining within UK waters

The number of plastic bags which have found their way into the North Sea has declined in recent years, according to major new research on the issue.

  • 05 April 2018
  • Adam Wentworth

The number of plastic bags which have found their way into the North Sea has declined in recent years, according to major new research on the issue.

The long-term study, compiled by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), analysed litter on the seafloor within North West Europe over the last 25 years.

Cefas undertook regular environmental surveys around the UK from 1992 to 2017. Of the 2,461 trawls they found that 63 percent contained at least one item of plastic.

Further analysis compared the proportion of plastic bags before 2010 and between 2010 and 2017. It found that within the Celtic Sea and Greater North Sea, which surround the UK, plastic bags had reduced from between 20 to 40 percent in recent years.

Plastic bags were also “the only category with a statistically significant downward trend”, as additional plastic items had increased.

One explanation for this decrease is the 5p plastic bag charge introduced by the UK Government in 2015. Reports have shown that the levy has seen carrier bags at the biggest retailers fall by an estimated 85 percent.

Thomas Maes, Marine Litter Scientist at Cefas said: “It is encouraging to see that efforts by all of society, whether the public, industry, NGOs or government to reduce plastic bags are having an effect. We observed sharp declines in the percentage of plastic bags as captured by fishing nets trawling the seafloor around the UK compared to 2010”.

“This research suggests that by working together we can reduce, reuse and recycle to tackle the marine litter problem”, he added.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Julian Kirby welcomed the results of the study, but warned that “much tougher action is needed if we’re to turn the tide on the huge plastic pollution crisis - including micro-plastics - swamping our marine environment”.