Gove backs ‘all-in’ deposit return system for drinks containers.

Michael Gove, Environment Secretary, has today (16th July) in a speech at Kew Gardens outlined his support for a comprehensive deposit return system (DRS) that covers the “maximum amount of potentially polluting packaging”, covering all sizes of cans and bottles. Gove explained how the ‘all-in’ system, supported and informed by Surfers Against Sewage since its Message in a Bottle campaign in 2016, would provide a “clearer financial and social signal to recycle”.

The Environment Secretary promised that new systems would ensure that producers pay the full cost of the recycling costs of their packaging, up from the 10% contribution currently made, saying:

“We need to work with business to make deposit return schemes as effective as possible and I believe an “all-in” deposit return scheme will give consumers the greatest possible incentive to recycle.”

The announcement follows a Government consultation in which two key frameworks; the ‘all-in’ approach, and a restricted ‘on the go’ option, were proposed. Surfers Against Sewage has firmly backed a comprehensive system to reduce packaging pollution and boost recycling, whilst also reducing the risk that producers will switch to less sustainable materials in order to avoid having to take part in the system.

On the announcement Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage said:

“Surfers Against Sewage welcomes today’s announcement from the Secretary of State for the Environment to deliver an ambitious, ‘all-in’, Deposit Return Scheme for England. The message after years of campaigning from many environmental organisations is now louder than ever and has shown clearly that a comprehensive scheme will help stop plastic pollution of our rivers, countryside, streets and ocean.  This is one of our biggest system changes that will truly trap plastic in the economy, creating a circular and sustainable economy, and preventing the devastating damage that plastic and packaging pollution causes to wildlife, habitats and our seas.”

The ‘all-in’ system also mirrors the approach to be taken in Scotland, and is expected to drive bottle recycling rates in excess of 90%, up from the current 57%. This poses a significant environment benefit over the ‘on the go’ proposal, which research by Surfers Against Sewage revealed would exclude 58% of the plastic bottles found on British beaches and rivers.

Gove also used the opportunity to raise wider environmental concerns including climate breakdown, biodiversity loss and plastic pollution, declaring that “nature is in retreat” and “time is running out” to avert multiple crises. To achieve this, Gove announced that a new Environment Bill would “enshrine in law measures that will tackle environmental decline”, and that a truly independent environment watchdog would be instated, equipped with the “sharp teeth” it would require.

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English water companies warned to clean up their act following unacceptable performance reports

 

The Environment Agency has today released its annual performance assessments for English water companies, finding overall performance to be ‘simply unacceptable’.

Serious warnings to the water companies causing damage to rivers, wildlife, beaches and bathers has been issued in the latest annual performance assessments today.

Water companies failed to meet overall pollution incident targets in 2018. Photo: Andy Hughes.

 

In the report’s foreword, Emma Howard Boyd, EA chair said:

“Performance in 2018 was simply unacceptable … rather than improving, the performance of most companies has deteriorated, reversing the trend of gradual improvement since we introduced the environmental performance assessment in 2011.”

Southern Water and Yorkshire Water, in particular, were identified for their poor performance and unacceptable levels of ‘serious pollution incidents’. These include events which cause either serious extensive or persistent impacts on the environment, people or property, and may, for example, result in a large number of fish deaths. The number of serious pollution incidents across England also rose from 52 to 56.

South West Water also shared the two star “unacceptable level of performance” rating, showing no improvement from 2017, due to its excessive number of total pollution incidents which were significantly worse than targeted.

Northumbrian Water was the only one of the nine companies which managed to achieve the expected four-star level of performance during the assessment period, and is one of the few companies leading the way in providing year-round data to the Safer Seas Service. SAS is calling for all water companies to provide year-round combined sewer overflow alerts by 2020, allowing water users to make informed decisions on whether it’s safe to us the water.

The report also highlighted that most companies look set to miss the Environment Agency’s 2020 pollution targets.

The findings follow Surfers Against Sewage’s release of sewage spill data from the Safer Seas Service last week, which highlighted the failures of water companies to prevent pollution of bathing waters already during the 2019 season, with Southern Water performing particularly poorly – prompting action from regional SAS reps.

Surfers Against Sewage’s Brighton regional reps group at Paddle Round the Pier 2019, protesting against Southern Waters deliberate misreporting of its wastewater practices. Photo: Andrew Riley

 

Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage said:

“Water companies must put the health of the planet before their profits. Today’s damning report shows just how poorly most of England’s water companies are performing, presiding in a regime of wilful pollution, poor planning and a lack of investment. Protecting our rivers, ocean and natural water supplies is non-negotiable – they are crucial to the health of communities. Water companies must do much better than this.

Through the #GenerationSea campaign, Surfers Against Sewage is calling for robust legislation to protect UK water quality standards through Brexit, and a strong, independent watchdog to regulate water company performance and hold companies accountable for pollution offences.

In addition, the Ocean Conservation All-Party Parliamentary Group for which SAS are the secretariat, is pushing for new legislation led by Scott Mann MP to enable regulators to fine and hold water companies accountable for combined sewer overflows.

Surfers Against Sewage is urging supporters to contact their local MP, calling for them to pledge their support for #GenerationSea – protecting our oceans from sewage, plastic pollution, global heating and over-exploitation by fisheries. Alongside this, our Safer Seas Service should be utilised to stay informed with real-time sewage spill alerts and water quality information.

Infographic of the key assessment findings. Source: Environment Agency.

 

Full report available here.

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Greenpeace Russia has discovered half a ton of plastic fragments on the coast of the Black Sea and the Azov Sea.

In November 2018, Greenpeace experts assessed the level of plastic pollution in the Black and Azov Seas. On the beaches 13,000 fragments were found, ranging from tiny pieces of unknown origin to 100 kilogram ship ropes.

Locations of GP study

The main sources of pollution are tourists, waste from other countries brought by currents, and maritime shipping.

Most of the plastic found is determined to be single-use packaging or goods. In the Black Sea, the share of such plastic is almost 68%, on the Azov Sea – up to 90%. The main pollutant of the latter was bottles, and the Black Sea coast was filled with styrofoam.

“We have now witnessed that plastic pollution is a real problem for the Black and Azov seas. On the hundred-meter sections of the coast, we found from 435 to 3,501 pieces of plastic. Even the borders of the Utrish nature reserve are littered. We found 1,001 plastic pieces in one monitored area and 2,991 pieces in the other. This is mainly one-off goods, packaging and bags that are all trash we can consciously avoid. Today in Russia there is no regulations over plastic pollution of the environment. There are no holistic measures to prevent it. Greenpeace urges the Government of the Russian Federation to develop a national system for monitoring plastic contamination and approve a list of single-use goods, containers and packaging that should be banned step by step. We cannot resolve this issue otherwise,” says Alexander Ivannikov, an expert at the Zero Waste project of Greenpeace Russia.

Interestingly, the more difficult it was for people to have access to an area, the higher its level of plastic contamination was. This may be due to the fact that such areas are less likely to be cleaned, while debris is still washed ashore.

Single-use plastic items pollute the environment, decompose for hundreds of years and harm animals. Sea inhabitants and birds often become its victims, mistaking pieces of plastic for food or getting entangled in them. According to the British government, plastic ends up in stomachs of 31 species of marine mammals and 100 species of seabirds.

On the method

During the expedition, Greenpeace experts used the methodology for monitoring marine debris on the beaches, which was developed by the DeFishGear project. The data collected was one of the reasons for the European Commission to ban certain types of plastic products.

According to the methodology, Greenpeace experts chose hundred-meter areas (polygons): 5 – on the Black Sea coast and 3 – on the Sea of Azov. From the surface of polygons, visually distinguishable fragments of plastic were collected, their number was counted, they were weighed and sorted by purpose / type of product.

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