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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Marine litter: UN declares war on ocean plastic

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Thursday, February 23 2017 launched a global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter – such as microplastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic – by the year 2022.

A water body littered with plastic and other waste product. Photo credit: Cheryl Ravelo/Reuters

Launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, Indonesia, the “#CleanSeas campaign” is urging governments to pass plastic reduction policies; targeting industry to minimise plastic packaging and redesign products; and calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits – before irreversible damage is done to seas.

Erik Solheim, Head of UNEP, said: “It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.”

Throughout the year, the #CleanSeas campaign will be announcing ambitious measures by countries and businesses to eliminate microplastics from personal care products, ban or tax single-use bags, and dramatically reduce other disposable plastic items.

Ten countries have already joined the campaign with far-reaching pledges to turn the plastic tide. Indonesia has committed to slash its marine litter by a massive 70 per cent by 2025; Uruguay will tax single-use plastic bags later this year and Costa Rica will take measures to dramatically reduce single-use plastic through better waste management and education.

Each year, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and costing at least $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. Up to 80 per cent of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic.

According to some estimates, at the rate we are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic.

Media personality Nadya Hutagalung supports #CleanSeas by calling on the cosmetics industry to stop adding microplastics to their products. As many as 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy – litter our seas, seriously threatening marine wildlife.

Nadya Hutagalung said, “On bathroom shelves around the world sit products that are destroying life in our oceans. Tiny pieces of plastic in our face scrubs and toothpastes, used to make products feel smooth, are washed away in drains to then fill the stomachs of marine animals who confuse it for food. No beauty product is worth destroying the world’s beautiful oceans, not to mention our own human well-being. There are alternatives! So let’s choose what we buy carefully and together, with the combined power of our voice and our wallets, we can urge beauty companies to end their use of microbeads.”

Globally recognised brands are also joining the fight. DELL Computers has unveiled a commercial-scale supply chain using plastic which has been fished out of the sea near Haiti. The computer giant will use the recovered ocean plastic in its product packaging.

“DELL is committed to putting technology and expertise to work for a plastic-free ocean,” said Dell’s Vice President for Global Operations Piyush Bhargava. “Our new supply chain brings us one step closer to UN Environment’s vision of Clean Seas by proving that recycled ocean plastic can be commercially re used.”

All these actions will be crucial to stemming the tide of marine litter, says UNEP, adding that, today, the world is producing 20 times more plastic than in the 1960s. Around one third of all plastic is used for packaging.

By 2050, the world’s plastic production will have to grow three to four times to satisfy global demand. A large portion will end up in oceans where it will remain for centuries, adds the UN body.

Actor Adrian Grenier, known for his role in hit TV show and film Entourage, and founder of Lonely Whale Foundation, has joined the #CleanSeas campaign, asking people to re-think their daily choices.

“Whether we choose to use plastic bags at the grocery store or sip through a plastic straw, our seemingly small daily decisions to use plastics are having a dramatic effect on our oceans,” said Adrian Grenier. “We have the power to effect change.

“Today I take this public pledge to do my part to refuse single use plastics, starting with the plastic straw, and also reaffirm my commitment to work with leaders such as Dell to reduce plastic packaging. If we start with one small change and hold each another accountable, I believe that together we can inspire global action for the health of our oceans.”

Major announcements are expected during The Ocean Conference in New York at the UN Headquarters 5 – 9 June, and the December UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.

Hamish Daud, Indonesian presenter and actor, said: “We hail from one of the most beautiful places on the planet, but our nasty plastic addiction is slowly choking our precious coasts and the marine life we share them with. Join with me to turn the tide on plastic – together we must start saying ‘no’ to unnecessary plastic in our daily lives that is ending up in the sea – decline the plastic shopping bags, reject the straws, replace plastic bottles with filtered water. I stand today with UN Environment to urge governments, industry and consumers to put an end to our dangerous plastic habit.”

Eneida de León, Minister of Housing, Territorial Planning and Environment of Uruguay: “Our goal is to discourage the use of plastic bags through regulations, give an alternative for workers in the waste sector, and develop education plans regarding the impact of the use of plastic bags on our environment. These actions are key to achieving sustainable development. Uruguay is committed to moving forward in that direction, and the Clean Seas campaign is certainly a very valuable contribution.”

Edgar Gutiérrez-Espeleta, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica: “Costa Rica recognises the risks and damage caused by the effects of single-use plastic and non-recoverable micro plastics on the marine environment. We strongly favour the engagement of all relevant stakeholders, including civil society, private sector and all citizens to support national and global efforts. Only through a real and active engagement of all of us, with the help of dynamic partnerships, we will be able to effectively combat marine litter.”

Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and the Environment of Norway: “Keeping our seas clean and our marine life safe from plastic is a matter of urgency for Norway. Marine plastic litter is a rapidly increasing threat to marine life, seafood safety and negatively affects the lives of people in coastal areas all around the world. We encourage every country in the world to join the Clean Seas campaign and develop effective measures to avoid single-use plastic ending up in the environment. Our oceans cannot wait any longer.”

Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly said: “The Ocean is the lifeblood of our planet, yet we are poisoning it with millions of tonnes of plastic every year. The time has come to turn the tide on marine litter. As the world’s nations prepare for The Ocean Conference to be held in New York, 5 to 9 June, I urge all of them to join the Clean Seas campaign and make an ambitious pledge to reduce single-use plastic. Be it a tax on plastic bags or a ban on microbeads in cosmetics, each country to do their bit to maintain the integrity of life in the Ocean.”

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