Cleaning up the act with the Scottish Marine Litter Strategy

Last week Scottish government published a Marine Litter Strategy outlining their commitment to reducing the amount of litter entering the marine and coastal environment. The Scottish government made a commitment to produce this strategy in 2009. The draft was consulted July to September 2013, and the voices of organisations such as Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and Keep Scotland Beautiful, who played a large role in the consultation process, can be heard throughout this final report.

The Marine Litter Strategy will work in conjunction with the National Litter Strategy and implementation will be led by Marine Scotland with a review of implementation progress in 2015-2016 and 2018. Five strategic directions are outlined:

Strategic Direction 1 – Improve public and business attitudes and behaviours around marine and coastal litter, in co-ordination with the national litter strategy.

Strategic Direction 2 – Reduce marine and coastal based sources of litter, in co-ordination with land sourced litter being reduced by the national litter strategy.

Strategic Direction 3 – Contribute to a low carbon economy by treating ‘waste as a resource’ and seizing the economic and environmental opportunities associated with the Zero Waste Plan.

Strategic Direction 4 – Improve monitoring at a Scottish scale and develop measures for strategy evaluation.

Strategic Direction 5 – Maintain and strengthen stakeholder co- ordination at the UK, EU and international scales.

Details of about 40 further actions needed to achieve these aims are outlined which focus on education, behaviour change initiatives and development of more intensive monitoring programmes. As well as providing ecological and social gains, a reduction in marine litter could also save £16.8million every year. The Environment Minister Richard Lochhead highlighted the importance of this strategy: “Marine litter is a threat to our precious marine environment that needs to be addressed to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy our environment and use our seas sustainably.”

Whilst there is already extensive legislation which incorporates marine litter control, for example the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, and the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, this more targeted approach will fill in the gaps to ensure a more successful and cohesive implementation. The government hope that this strategy will help contribute to aim of achieving Good Environmental Status by 2020 as required in the MSFD.

To date Scottish government have already increased fines to crack down on littering and fly tipping as part of the National Litter Strategy as well introducing the compulsory 5p charge. In this new strategy they aim to improve education on impacts of marine litter and to encourage producers to change their product design to remove things like micro plastics and plastic cotton bud sticks. They also hope to better police and regulate marine waste dumped by ships at sea and incorporate environmental responsibilities into training of ship owners and crews. A national steering group on marine litter, led by Marine Scotland, will co-ordinate the approach and share best practice amongst Scottish Government Directorates.

Although no commitment to funding is made, the need to develop innovative clean technologies for recycling and monitoring is acknowledged. Lots of the clean-up and monitoring programmes currently running rely on the work of volunteers, for example MCSs big beach clean-up, which also monitored the volumes and types of plastics recovered from UK beaches. Another initiative from KIMO, called Fishing For Litter, is a simple and effective approach of clearing up marine litter that has been operating in Scotland since 2005.

Recently, marine pollution seems to have been receiving the attention that will be required to combat this issue. A similar strategy was published by Northern Ireland June 2013. In the 2013 Science and Technology Report on Water Quality they highlighted the need to consider the impact of micro plastics in water bodies and suggested the government encourage the phase out of micro plastics in UK companies and internationally. It was just last month that Scotland announced 30 new Marine Protected Areas, and next year Defra will begin consultation on proposed sites for the next tranche of Marine Conservation Zones.