NAIROBI, Kenya— In a report released on 23 June 2014 by the Plastic Disclosure Project and sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme, the organization warns of the threat plastic poses to the health of the ocean and marine life.
The report, titled Valuing Plastic, states that approximately $13 billion worth of damage is caused each year by plastic waste in the ocean. The pollution harms marine animals, hurts ecosystems and contaminates the seafood we consume. Importantly, the report calls for a solution to be found on land and not in the ocean.
The report was part of the first United Nations Environment Assembly, which took place in Nairobi. The meeting included organizations such as UNEP, the Global Ocean Commission, Plastic Disclosure Project, government agencies and scientists who discussed strategies for addressing critical environmental issues.
The use of plastic has become an integral part of modern daily life. Global plastic production is estimated to reach up to 33 billion tons by 2050. But its production has dire consequences as plastic comprises 80 percent of pollution in the ocean and shorelines. Most plastic waste ends up in huge trash patches in the middle of the ocean where currents converge.
Waste enters the ocean primarily from littering, landfill runoff, tourist activities and fisheries. It then causes tremendous damage, including death, when ingested by marine creatures. Entanglement of dolphins and harm to important habitats like coral reefs are other examples of the devastating effects of plastic waste.
The assembly asks the public to recognize the environmental impact of our plastic use. As much as 20 million tons of plastic enters into the ocean every year. Plastic cannot decompose, so once it enters the water it breaks into smaller pieces and causes significant damage to life in the ocean.
Specifically, the report cites experts’ growing concern about microplastics, which are pieces smaller than 5 millimeters. Microplastics are a part of many hygiene products including toothpaste and facial cleansers and are not filtered by sewage treatment. So these tiny plastic pieces end up in the ocean and are often ingested by marine animals such as seabirds, fish, mussels, worms and zooplankton. The consequences of ingestion are toxic and can be lethal.
Plastic’s presence in the ocean is pervasive. Scientists have even discovered small fragments in polar ice caps.
To combat the pollution, the change must be proactive, as cleaning up existing plastic waste in the ocean is costly and ineffective. The assembly calls for an upstream solution from business and communities.
For example, the government can help by regulating plastic use and implementing recycle programs. Individuals can seek to reduce their plastic footprint by purchasing products that use little plastic and by recycling. And companies can encourage recycling with rebate or deposit programs.
The UNEP calls all members of the public to make a change by reducing, recycling and redesigning plastic products. By taking initiative and preventing plastics from entering the ocean, the global community will avoid the costly price of clean up and decrease the level of contaminated food and marine environments.