Plastic pollution

Plastic pollutes at each stage of its life cycle, from extraction to disposal, and poses one of the most serious emerging threats to ocean ecosystems. We work on the issue at the UK level and internationally, pushing governments and corporates to catalyse a wholescale shift away from our single-use society, phasing out all but the most essential plastics.

The problem

Unprecedented growth in the production and use of plastics is triggering a global environmental crisis. Each year, up to 12 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean, an amount set to quadruple by 2050 (from 2017 levels) unless major reform is put in place. Over 900 species are known to have ingested or been entangled in marine plastic pollution, killing hundreds of thousands of animals every year. Around 200 million tonnes of plastic are already in the oceans, and 51 trillion plastic particles are already present in surface waters alone.

Yet while the problems of plastics in our oceans have gained particular attention in recent years, the negative impacts extend beyond just the marine environment; plastics also affect freshwater, climate stability, soils, and public health with widespread environmental, economic, and social impacts. Toxic chemicals from plastic have also now made their way into the human food chain and are linked to a higher risk of cancer, obesity, and heart disease. As this pollution is global in nature, so must be the solution. The only way to fundamentally solve it is through action to significantly reduce plastic production and regulate the industry at multiple levels.

Urgent action is needed to significantly reduce plastic consumption and waste to end the devastating pollution of our oceans. We are campaigning to phase out all unnecessary plastic use and significantly improve reuse and recycling.

  • 2016

    As part of a coalition we successfully campaigned for

    a world-leading ban on microbeads in the UK
  • 2018

    We campaigned at the European level and managed to

    secure two major EU legislative agreements
  • 2018

    Our survey of UK retailers revealed their plastic footprint leading to

    new commitments to solve the plastic problem

Moving forward

Our marine plastic pollution campaign is focused on obtaining strong regulatory measures at international, European and national levels to achieve a significant reduction in plastics entering the oceans. Our work covers a range of sources from the pre-production plastic pellets (so-called ‘nurdles’) that pollute our shorelines to single-use plastic items and other unnecessary plastic packaging to the ‘ghost’ fishing gear that ensnares and kills marine wildlife.

We are campaigning to secure Europe-wide legislation to dramatically reduce sources of single-use plastic and microplastic entering our seas from land while also tackling the major sources of plastic pollution originating from shipping and fisheries. Both within Europe and the UK, we are working to obtain world-leading policies on single-use plastics that will catalyse international action.

We are also working to galvanise corporate action and push major UK retailers to adopt ambitious commitments to cut single-use plastics and packaging. In the first survey of its kind, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace UK surveyed and ranked the plastic habits of the country’s biggest grocery retailers.

Our international campaign is focused on securing a binding global agreement on marine plastic pollution that will significantly reduce production and use of plastics and prevent plastic waste entering the ocean.