- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May recently announced £61.4 million ($87.8 million USD) in funding to reduce marine plastic pollution in the Commonwealth of Nations. This was tied to the announcement of New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Ghana joining the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance (CCOA), which is being co-chaired by the U.K. and Vanuatu.
- This U.K. funding includes £25 million for research on marine plastic from a "scientific, technical, economic and social perspective" and £20 million for a Sustainable Manufacturing and Environmental Pollution program targeted at developing countries.
- The remaining £16.4 million is focused on local infrastructure, including £6 million for national litter plans and £3 million for debris prevention pilots. Another £5 million will be available for developing country CCOA members to fund various projects and £2.4 million will "support the development of a new public-private delivery platform to help advance the ambitions set out by the CCOA."
This announcement follows recent promises from May about reducing single-use plastic items in the coming years through taxes and other policy tools. By making the funding pledge ahead of this week's Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London, the U.K. aims to take a more concrete leadership role on the topic. The government's goal is to get others from the voluntary group of 53 countries to join CCOA and create their own plans for marine plastic policy. The U.K.'s microbead ban and plastic bag fee were cited as potential examples for others to emulate.
National pressure around waste issues has been growing in the U.K. — attributed in part to documentary series such as "Blue Planet" and "Hugh's War on Waste" — leading to more tangible action. The government has also pledged matching funds for plastic pollution projects through the UK Aid Match program.
With marine plastic set to be part of the discussion at June's G7 Summit in Canada, multiple countries have now become focused on it. In addition to these global policy discussions, recent stories about a sperm whale killed by plastic in Spain and growing size estimates for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have also raised public awareness. Yet the problem can be easy to ignore unless stakeholders are directly confronted with it. Some believe that this may even require solutions on the scale of those needed to address climate change.
As trade flows shift due to China's scrap import restrictions, some are also concerned that could potentially lead to more marine pollution if developing countries stepping up to fulfill market demands don't have adequate infrastructure in place. While certain companies claim to no longer be exporting their plastic, plenty of U.S. material is still heading across the Pacific.
At a time when U.S. policy isn't emphasizing international spending on environmental issues, solutions will likely have to come from elsewhere. Charitable funding and investment from corporate sources is one option. Funding through the U.K.'s new CCOA may now be another, since some of the countries that have seen an uptick in scrap imports are part of the Commonwealth.