Environment Minister Michael Gove: Weston's Cleaner Coastlines campaign 'could not come at a more crucial time'
PUBLISHED: 17:25 01 November 2017 | UPDATED: 17:28 01 November 2017
The Government cabinet minister responsible for the environment, food and rural affairs has endorsed the Mercury's Cleaner Coastlines campaign to reduce the town's plastic waste and protect our beaches and seas. Michael Gove wrote to the Mercury this week to praise our campaign, which is being run alongside the town's chamber of commerce and North Somerset Council.
As an environmentalist, I want the UK to lead the world in protecting our planet so we can become the first generation to leave it in a better state than we found it. Ultimately, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the energy which powers enterprise are all threatened if we don’t practise careful stewardship.
A key part of this goal is tackling the plastic choking our oceans and marine life. That’s why I was so heartened to see the Cleaner Coastlines campaign that started in Weston and will extend along the North Somerset coast. The Weston Mercury, Chamber of Commerce and Conservative-run North Somerset Council give us reason to be optimistic by working together to inspire businesses and the community to reduce their plastic waste.
It is campaigns like this, and environmental organisations like Surfers Against Sewage and its awarding of Plastic-Free Coastline status, that spread an idealism and commitment to halt and reverse the trends and forces harming our planet. They show us that where there’s a will there’s a way to improve the environment for the next generation.
Although it isn’t always comfortable for those of us in power who have to live in a world of compromise and deal-making, this sort of campaigning is vital to ensuring we continue to make progress in protecting and enhancing our environment.
And the campaign couldn’t come at a more crucial time, with around eight million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans each year, posing a serious threat to our natural and marine environment – evidence suggests plastic is ingested by 31 species of marine mammals and over 100 species of sea birds.
Up to 80 per cent of this is estimated to have been originally lost or discarded on land before washing out to sea, and plastic bottles are a particular concern – with figures showing just 57 per cent of those sold in the UK in 2016 were collected for recycling.
This compares to a record 90 per cent of deposit-marked cans and bottles that were returned to dedicated recycling facilities in Denmark, and a return rate of almost 80 per cent of beverage containers in South Australia, both of which have a form of deposit return scheme.
That’s why we have launched a call for evidence to help us understand how reward and return schemes for plastic bottles and other drinks containers could work in England to make it simpler and easier to recycle. The evidence submitted will be examined by a working group which includes brand and retail giants such as Coca Cola and Tesco.
The government’s 5p plastic bag charge has already seen enormous success in changing consumer behaviour by reducing use by 83 per cent. Some nine billion fewer carrier bags have been distributed since the charge was introduced, with more than £95million raised donated to environmental, educational and other good causes.
In addition, legislation for the government’s ban on microbeads – welcomed by campaigners as one of the toughest in the world – will be introduced later this year and we are now assessing how best to tackle other sources of microplastics from polluting the seas.
I know more needs to be done. The Cleaner Coastlines campaign is a great way for people to do their bit in protecting the natural world on their doorstep and I will continue to work closely with organisations, campaigners, our local MPs John Penrose and Dr Liam Fox and the Conservative-run council to forge our future approach to the environment together.
Join our campaign by joining our Cleaner Coastlines: Weston and North Somerset plastic-free campaign on Facebook.