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Felicity Landon speaks to Alan Tinline, ABP's Head of Environment and Dr. Sue Kinsey, MCS Senior Pollution Policy Officer, about tackling plastic pollution in our seas.

How attitudes have changed – and definitely for the better. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II has finally
driven home the dire reality, and the horrendous consequences for wildlife, of the growing tide of discarded plastics in our oceans. Individuals, companies and organisations are responding. Even the Queen is backing efforts to reduce single-use plastics, banning plastic water bottles and straws from the Royal estates.

It wasn’t always so, as Alan Tinline, ABP’s Head of Environment, will tell you. “In a previous career, about ten years ago, I stood in front of colleagues and said ‘Let’s talk about marine plastics and what we should be doing.’ It really wasn’t received well at all. We were seen as ‘tree huggers’ even that recently.

I get plenty of emails from around the ports about environmentrelated projects they are planning; many of our efforts are being driven by our employees.

“Similarly, if you walk past a piece of litter these days, you would feel guilty not picking it up. In the past there might have been this attitude of ‘I didn’t drop it’.

”Beach clean-ups, recycling drives and waste reduction initiatives are nothing new for ABP – but certainly, the renewed focus has helped.

“I get plenty of emails from around the ports about environment-related projects they are planning; many of our efforts are being driven by our employees,” he says. “And it isn’t only the ‘millennials’, as some might suggest. It is across the age groups.

“Every one of our ports has regular events in which employees get together and go out for a walk with bags and littler pickers. Some are clearing up local beaches, some are working inside the port, others are tidying up nearby roads.

“We created ‘Tidy Friday’ and it’s a very competitive event, with pictures and achievements shared on our internal social media network. The media attention to plastics has certainly given things an edge.”

ABP is linking up with the Great British Spring Clean, with a number of ports signed up for specific events which involve the local community too.

“If you ever go on a litter pick for a couple of hours, you will be shocked – but at least you are doing something about it,” says Alan. 

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says its ‘Beachwatch’ clean-up programme has seen litter increasing over the past year and there has been a rising trend since it began recording litter almost 25 years ago.

There was a 10% increase in marine litter between 2016 and 2017 and there are now, on average, 718 pieces of litter for every 100 metres of beach surveyed, says the MCS. Plastic makes up almost 70% of all litter it finds on beaches, with an average 225 pieces for every 100 metres of beach surveyed.

“Plastic pollution is now found in every ocean in the world, with the latest reports showing that even in the middle of the South Indian Ocean and polar regions plastic has been found,” says a spokesman for the MCS. “This form of pollution causes problems for marine wildlife through entanglement, ingestion and smothering, which can lead to loss of limbs, injury, starvation, effects on growth, movement and reproduction and, of course, death.”

Dr Sue Kinsey, MCS Senior Pollution Policy Officer, says: "The recent interest in ocean pollution, especially plastic, through such programmes as Blue Planet II, has been amazing and we hope that this momentum will lead to real action being taken."

“We need concerted action from governments, industry and the general public to stop the plastic tide. We believe that we need to introduce, as soon as possible, such policies as minimum recycled content for plastic products, taxes on hard-to-recycle plastics, the banning of polystyrene and black plastic, and the introduction of a deposit refund system for all drinks containers, not just plastic. We need to work towards a genuine circular economy system in the UK where ‘waste’ is valued as a resource and used time and time again, rather than polluting our countryside, coasts and seas.”

Plastic makes up almost
70% of all litter the Marine Conservation Society finds on beaches
There was a
10% increase in marine litter between 2016 and 2017
There will be more plastics than fish in our oceans by
2050 if we don't change the way we produce and use plastics

For ABP, an exciting new initiative is getting under way in Ipswich, where a ‘Seabin’ is being trialled. Essentially a floating rubbish bin that can be located in the water at marinas, docks, yacht clubs and commercial ports, attached to a pontoon the Seabin moves up and down with the tide. Water is sucked in and passed through a catch bag inside; a submersible pump sends the water back out, keeping the rubbish trapped in the bag, to be disposed of.

The Seabin can collect up to half a tonne of rubbish a year. “The Seabin collects even micro plastics
as small as 2mm, and also skims oils and other pollutants off the surface of the water,” says Alan. “We do expect to have many more in use.”

ABP is also in talks with TerraCycle, a company that specialises in ‘eliminating the idea of waste’ by recycling the ‘non-recyclable’.

“TerraCycle can take plastics from the marine environment and make them into new products such as bottles for shampoo, for example. The plan is for them to put bins into several ports to collect the plastic, to be taken away and made into new products. We are hoping to kick off with this in the spring,” says Alan.

In fact, similar enterprises are already happening around ABP. In both Silloth and Hull, benches have been made out of old cable drums – heavy, solid, wooden items which are expensive to dispose of but are perfect in their new life.

ABP is appointing designated and trained ‘waste coordinators’ in every port – not only to ensure that everyone is legally compliant, but to ensure that ABP goes well beyond compliance. “It is about getting consistency and best practice, and sharing ideas. Internal communications networks plays a major part in that,” says Alan.

Most ABP offices now have water dispensers to avoid one-use plastic bottles. On the Humber, employees were given reusable water bottles as part of a wellbeing project also designed to eliminate the need for plastic cups. Why buy bottled water when it’s supplied free of charge? Why create more plastic waste when it’s really not necessary?