Plastics threaten our planet, UN agency seeks ban

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By Prudence Arobani/New York

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned that if something is not urgently done to halt and turn the tide of plastic usage, it could have unimaginable catastrophic effects on the planet.

Announcing the launch of a global campaign on Thursday, Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UNEP, said microplastics cost at least eight billion dollars in damage to marine ecosystems annually.

Solheim said microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in our galaxy adding, according to estimates, by 2050,  99 per cent of earth’s seabirds will have ingested plastic.

The UNEP chief urged everyone to eliminate the use of microplastics and stop the excessive, wasteful use of single-use plastic, to save the world’s seas and oceans from irreversible damage before it is too late.

“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,” he warned.

An illustration of the sheer magnitude of the problem is that as much as 51 trillion microplastic particles, 500 times more than stars in our galaxy, litter the seas, he regretted.

“Each year, more than eight million metric tonnes of plastic end up in oceans, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and cost at least eight billion dollars in damage to marine ecosystems.

“According to estimates, by 2050, oceans will have more plastic than fish if present trends are not arrested,” the UNEP chief warned.

According to UNEP, actions to stem the growing tide of maritime litter could include reducing the use of single-use plastics at the individual level such as by using reusable shopping bags and water bottles, choosing products without microbeads and plastic packaging, and not using straws to drink.

The President of the UN General Assembly, Mr Peter Thomson, highlighted the upcoming conference on ‘The Ocean’ at the UN Headquarters in New York, and urging for ambitious pledges to reduce single-use plastic.

“The ocean is the lifeblood of our planet, yet we are poisoning it with millions of tonnes of plastic every year.

“Be it a tax on plastic bags or a ban on microbeads in cosmetics, each country can do their bit to maintain the integrity of life in the Ocean,” Thomson said.

Film actor and founder of the Lonely Whale Foundation, Adrian Grenier, said the continued use of plastic bags was having untold consequences on the oceans.

“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,” Grenier said.

Through its Clean Seas campaign, UNEP has urged countries and businesses to take ambitious measures to eliminate microplastics from personal-care products, ban or tax single-use plastic bags, and dramatically reduce other disposable plastic items by 2022.

It said already, 10 countries had joined the initiative with far-reaching pledges: adding, Indonesia has committed to slash its marine litter by 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, according to UNEP.

DELL Computers also announced that it would use recovered ocean plastic in its product packaging with its Vice President for Global Operations, Piyush Bhargava, saying “DELL is committed to putting technology and expertise to work for a plastic-free ocean.

“Our new supply chain brings us one step closer to UNEP’s vision of Clean Seas by proving that recycled ocean plastic can be commercially reused”.

According to the UNEP chief, “these initiatives could not come sooner as up to 80 per cent of all litter in the oceans are made of plastic”.