Plastic ocean pollution – what can we do?

As the Prime Minister calls time on the environmental scourge of plastic waste, The Green Blue takes a look at what recreational boaters can do to help

Following Prime Minister Theresa May's launch of the 25-Year Environment Plan, the Government is determined to be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. The plan outlines steps for a cleaner, greener Britain – with avoidable plastic waste eliminated by the end of 2042.

The Government will:

  • Work with supermarkets to encourage them to introduce plastic-free aisles in which all the food is loose;
  • Encourage industry to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products;
  • Make them easier to recycle; and
  • Look at how the tax system or charges could further reduce the amount of waste we create.

In addition, the Government pledged to inject new funding into plastics innovation by dipping into the Government's £7 billion research and development pot.

In her speech, the Prime Minister said: “In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how, today, we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly. In the UK alone, the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls. This plastic is ingested by dozens of species of marine animals and over 100 species of sea birds, causing immense suffering to individual creatures and degrading vital habitats.

“One million birds, and over 100,000 other sea mammals and turtles die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste. This truly is one of the great environmental scourges of our time.”

Global crisis

Plastic impacts on entire ecosystems and marine life gets caught up in it, eats it and lives in it. It also has a direct impact on our health, acting as a sponge for toxins which can end up in our food. Plastic is cheap and incredibly versatile with properties that make it ideal for many applications. However, these qualities have also resulted in it becoming an environmental issue.

We have developed a 'disposable' lifestyle and it's estimated that around 50% of plastic is used once, then thrown away. There's no doubt that plastic pollution in the ocean is a growing global crisis and campaigns such as Sky Ocean Rescue, eXXpedition (the team that sailed around the British Isles sampling the waters for plastics and toxins), and the BBC series Blue Planet II have all recently highlighted the scale of the issue.

The 25-Year Environment Plan also sets out the Government's ambition across a wide range of environmental issues, including consulting on the third tranche of Marine Conservation Zones in the first half of 2018, publishing a new UK Marine Strategy and launching a three-year 'Natural Environment for Health and Wellbeing' programme.

While the plan has been welcomed by environmental groups, it has also attracted criticism due to the lack of proposed legislation and the lengthy timescales given for finding solutions. Campaigners are calling for an ambitious Environment Act in the next Parliament if the new Plan is to have any significance.

Meanwhile, World Sailing has been consulting on their Sustainability Agenda 2030, setting out its ambition to achieve substantial change within the sport, which can contribute actively to global sustainability. This includes a series of challenging targets across technical standards, events, training, venues and facilities, members and participation.

By working towards an environmentally sustainable boating community, we can save money, avoid red tape and safeguard the waterways and habitats we enjoy for the future. There are lots of ways you can support organisations that do great work to protect the oceans, from joining a local beach clean, to signing petitions or fundraising. Why not start today?

What can we do as boaters?

The boating community can be part of the marine solution:

  • Stamp out single-use plastics by using refillable water bottles and reusable bags
  • Buy products with less packaging to reduce carbon footprint
  • Always choose products without microbeads
  • Ditch the disposables - remove all plastic cups and straws
  • Consider more eco-friendly alternatives such as cutlery and rubbish bags made from com-starch, which can be composted
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning and personal products to avoid discharging any toxic or harmful liquids into the water
  • Take part in year-round beach and shoreline clean-ups
  • Find local recycling facilities at
  • Don't throw anything over the side - including food
  • Prevent loose items from blowing overboard
  • When carrying out maintenance, use only eco-friendly products and fresh water, and take care that no debris (like paint flecks etc.) ever enters the water
  • Download The Green Blue's handy guides and become a #GreenBlueChampion at

Established by the RYA and British Marine 12 years ago, The Green Blue environmental awareness campaign has helped boat users, member businesses, sailing clubs and training centres reduce their impact on coastal and inland waters to keep them in great shape for now and the future.

The campaign supports sustainable development by demonstrating best practice and encouraging the design and production of innovative, environmentally benign products, facilities and processes within the recreational boating sector.

Kate Fortnam, Campaign Manager for The Green Blue says: “Awareness of environmental issues such as plastic pollution has undoubtedly increased in recent years, but there’s much more work to be done to protect the future sustainability of our marine ecosystem.

“The plastic waste tide we are faced with is not only obvious for us as boaters to clearly see washed up on shore or whilst at sea. Most disconcertingly, the overwhelming amount of marine plastic debris is beyond visual, made of microscopic range fragmented plastic debris that cannot be just scooped out of the ocean.

“By working towards an environmentally self-regulating boating community, The Green Blue campaign aims to help boaters minimise the impact they have on the environment and safeguard the waters and habitats we enjoy and rely on for the future.” 

For more information or to download your free copy of 'The Green Guide to Boating' visit  The site is packed with practical advice, case studies and information on green products to help you save money, protect water quality and habitats and ultimately, safeguard the future of our coastal and inland waterways.