For 25 years, government scientists have been measuring plastic waste on seafloors and throughout waters surrounding the United Kingdom.
Their latest analysis has found that fewer plastic bags are covering seafloors, a sign that recent policies to restrict plastic bag use are paying off, according to the Independent.
“It is encouraging to see that efforts by all of society, whether the public, industry, NGOs or government to reduce plastic bags are having an effect,” Dr. Thomas Maes, the report’s lead author, told the Independent.
The team of researchers added that other types of plastic are proliferating in nearby waters, so net plastic waste is actually increasing in marine environments. In fact, another report found that plastic waste in oceans will triple over the next decade. As a result, they urge decisionmakers to craft similar policies to curb uses of other types of plastic, the Independent reports.
Policies to eliminate single-use plastic shopping bags began to take off in the UK when the nation’s top grocery chain, Tesco, began imposing a fee on bags in 2015. Other brands soon followed and in August of last year, Tesco upped the ante by flat-out banning single-use plastic bags.
Read More: The Long, Strange Journey of a Plastic Bag
As the public became more engaged, the government began to react to the rise of plastic pollution and have restricted various types of plastic, including plastic-lined coffee cups and microbeads.
Since Tesco’s efforts began, 9 billion plastic bags have been avoided, the report found, and the scientists measuring marine pollution attribute the decline in seafloor plastic bags to this trend.
They determine the prevalence of plastic in waters by observing trawling nets that scrape the seafloor on fishing vessels, and more than 2,500 ocean trawls have been surveyed over the past 25 years, according to the Independent.
“This research shows how effective charges are at reducing plastic waste,” Mary Creagh, who chairs the research committee, told the Independent.
“The UK has used 9 billion fewer plastic bags since the 5p charge was introduced. Ministers should introduce a 25p ‘latte levy’ to tackle the UK’s mountain of coffee cup waste,” she added.
Elsewhere in the world, plastic bans are also gaining momentum.
Even more sweeping proposals are underway.
The UN recently proposed a global ban on plastic pollution entering the oceans; Canada is planning to introduce a similar proposal at the G7 gathering later this year; and a range of local, state, and federal governments are enacting targeted and sweeping bans on plastic use.
Globally, around 380 million metric tons of plastic are created annually. Meanwhile, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans each year, which is like emptying a garbage truck full of plastic into an ocean every minute.
This pollution affects marine life in a number of ways, according to experts, by poisoning animals, choking them, entangling them, causing deformities, and through other consequences.
As the negative consequences of plastic waste continue to accumulate, political action has become more feasible.
Global Citizen campaigns to reduce plastic use around the world and you can take action on this issue here.