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Environment

Sir David Attenborough Backs Decision to Double UK Aid for Plastic Recycling


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There are multiple benefits of recycling in terms of impact for the UN’s Global Goals — including Goal 3 for health, by limiting the spread of disease as a result of rubbish pileup; Goal 5 for gender equality, by supporting female waste collectors in generating income; and Goal 14 for protecting life below water. Join the movement to end extreme poverty by taking action here in support of the Global Goals. 

Broadcaster Sir David Attenborough has condemned the “hideous consequences” of plastic waste “to both humanity and to life in the seas, upon which we depend” during a speech in the UK parliament.

He was there for the announcement on Monday that UK aid support for plastic recycling in Commonwealth countries would be doubled — in response to the UK public’s “passionate response” to the issue of plastic pollution. 

Attenborough’s 2017 series Blue Planet II really brought to light the extent of the plastic pollution crisis, and encouraged some 88% of viewers to make changes to their lifestyles to limit their plastic use. 

Take Action: Encourage More Plastic Manufacturers to Incentivise People for Recycling

During his speech, Attenborough made clear that there is also a great deal of work to be done in the UK, mentioning the “shame” in the amount of plastics we produce and questioning where this waste is ending up.

The announcement was made by International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt at the parliamentary event on Commonwealth Day. 

“Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to our oceans,” Mordaunt said, highlighting the UN estimate that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050 — unless we act now to reduce plastic use and improve how waste is managed. 

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“That’s why I am doubling UK aid’s support to projects in developing countries to increase plastic recycling,” she said. “This will create jobs and reduce the harmful impact of plastic waste in our oceans. Cleaning up our environment is a win for us all.” 

The funding, which will increase from £3 million to £6 million, will really be focusing on pilot schemes that work to improve plastic recycling in some of the world’s poorest countries — some of which have already begun. 

One of these schemes, in Bangladesh, works with the country’s industry to increase the quality and volume of plastic recycling, particularly in clothes manufacturing. 

Another in Ghana, led by the Association of Ghana Industries, focusses on improving waste management and increasing recycling by encouraging investment from the private sector. 

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And a pilot in Uganda, due to be launched soon, will work by setting up partnerships between key businesses, the government, and the charity sector to boost the number of plastic bottles being recovered and recycled. 

So much of the ocean plastic pollution problem is a direct result of the mismanagement of waste on land. Some 2 billion people have no access to basic waste collection, meaning that their litter just piles up in the streets — or makes its way into the ocean.

Both of these outcomes can have devastating results on people’s health and the planet. Piles of rubbish encourage the spread of disease, and mismanaged waste can cause devastation for life on land and life below water. 

Meanwhile, people who make a living collecting waste are often women living in poverty, according to the Department for International Development (DfID). In Kampala, for example, some 80% of the 6,000 waste collectors are women.

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By connecting these waste collectors with responsible businesses, UK aid and the International community can help improve their incomes as well as generating jobs, alongside the environmental benefits. 

The parliamentary event was co-hosted by the Coalition for Global Prosperity, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Prevention for Plastic Waste, and Plastic Oceans UK. 

The APPG on the Prevention of Plastic Waste is a group of cross-party politicians who monitor the progress of the 25-year environment plan in relation to plastic waste. 

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And Mordaunt also highlighted that she wants to be hearing from scientists, tech entrepreneurs, and business leaders for ideas in solving the plastic pollution crisis. 

Last year, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged £66.4 million to boosting global research into plastic pollution, and to help countries across the Commonwealth stop plastic waste from entering the oceans. 

Mordaunt also announced during the event that she will be co-hosting a meeting with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastics Action Partnership, major brands, waste management companies, and investors, to get the conversation rolling on how the global plastic supply chain can become more sustainable.