Publication - Research and analysis

Marine plastic pollution: research

Research on the plastic value chain in Scotland to better understand this landscape and the potential for intervention to address marine plastic pollution.

Marine plastic pollution: research
4. Recommendations and next steps

4. Recommendations and next steps

Recommendations and next steps

Key conclusions and recommendations;

a. Points of pollution commonly occur during product use and at the end of life. Considering this in isolation would suggest the consumer or end user is responsible for stemming the tide of marine litter. Whilst consumers hold a lot of purchasing and lobby power, tackling the problem further up the supply chain can be much more efficient and can make it easier, and more likely, for the consumer to do the right thing.

b. Innovation in fishing gear materials and recycling is needed to avoid the majority of waste ending up in landfill or as marine litter. Funding from the Scottish government could be directed towards innovation. The research identified spillover benefits from such innovation due to the global nature of fishing and the marine litter problem and therefore a potential opportunity for international collaboration.

c. With menstrual products the research found consumer behaviour, habits and norms are formed at an early age and are influenced by parents, friends and education received. It was noted in the stakeholder workshop that the majority of classroom education on periods is sponsored by the big brands at which point free samples are provided. There is a potential option to support behaviour change by providing alternative products and incorporating key messages on disposal at this first point of use.

d. A representative from Cyrenians[6], an Edinburgh based charity involved in distributing free sanitary products to those in need, highlighted the impact of the cost difference between reusable and single-use products. The funding they receive is limited and over a relatively short time period they can reach more people by providing single use products compared to reusable products. This could be addressed by increased funding or by ring-fencing some funds for reusable products given the longer term cost-effectiveness assuming that any immediate risk of Period Poverty is also addressed.

e. As long as the producers and brand owners of tampons and pads do not face the negative impacts (blockages in the sewage network, losses to our tourism industry, environmental consequences of microbial contamination and the transport of invasive species) single-use menstrual products will continue to dominate the market.

f. In general there is a strong appetite across industries to help tackle the marine plastic problem. Businesses are, however, driven by profit and so competitive fairness is important, alongside perception of risk and dependence on norms or traditions. Accreditation and a green procurement framework were suggested as options to reduce plastic loss from artificial pitches. Any standards would need to work in parallel with those used by FIFA and World Rugby and would also need to account for cost, safety and performance. Creating the right incentives are key to allow the market to innovate and develop the solutions.

g. Appropriate waste management infrastructure and enforcement is essential for the majority of product types. This was exemplified by end of life management of artificial pitches as it was suggested that some waste is stored indefinitely or handled illegally.

Whilst the products researched all share the common problem of being a marine litter pollutant, the research highlights the need to design solutions around the particular barriers and drivers faced in different product areas in order to be effective. The four shortlisted products were used as examples of how solutions differ depending on the make-up of the sector and the reasons for the plastic 'leakages'. When considering other problem products this research could be used to assess similarities across attributes and the transferability of potential solutions.

The findings of this research contribute to a better understanding of the types of levers available to tackling the marine plastic problem in Scotland beyond both consumer behaviour change and progress made so far on certain products.

Understanding business behaviours and motivations is crucial to designing effective interventions and this research provides that initial foundation for expanding the effort on stemming the plastic tide in Scotland.