According to a 2015 report published in Science magazine, it is estimated that about eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in global waters each year. The UK’s Marine Conservation Society say that in just one weekend, they found over 5,000 plastic bags on UK beaches. Without the hundreds of volunteer groups that regularly clean up the beaches, the majority of these bags would end up in the ocean.
Although the bags do not decompose, they do break down into smaller and smaller pieces and are then, in turn, eaten by birds and marine mammals. Some creatures can become entangled in the plastic bags which restricts their ability to feed and they die.
In order to try to combat this, the UK government has introduced a levy (currently 5p per bag) on single use plastic bags in large stores. Wales was the first in 2011, followed by Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014. England finally came into line in October 2015 and it has been reported that in the past six months the number of plastic bags used in seven major supermarkets has fallen to 640 million from an annual figure of 7.6 billion!! If this trend continues, it would represent a drop in usage of 83%.
Overall, according to government figures, large retailers (any store employing more than 250 staff) have sold 1.1 billion single use plastic bags raising £41.3m, of which £29.2m was donated to good causes such as environmental, education, health, arts, charities and other voluntary groups.
This is fantastic news as it means that marine life is safer, communities are cleaner and the bags that don’t end up in the ocean will not clog up our landfill sites for hundreds, possible thousands of years.