Quantcast
Popular
Marine litter on a remote stretch of coastline in Rekvik, Norway. Bo Eide / Flickr

Plastic Threatens to Swamp the Planet

By Paul Brown

A ubiquitous tide of plastic particles has now swept throughout the world's oceans.

The human rights activist Bianca Jagger described to a conference in London Tuesday how a substance that was invented only in 1907 and seemed to have almost magical properties, because it was practically indestructible, is now threatening an environmental catastrophe.


The danger to marine life highlighted recently by David Attenborough in his Blue Planet TV series was only part of the problem, she said.

Because fish ingest the micro-plastics and we eat the fish, then the plastics are in our own bodies too, with as yet unknown health effects.

Plastics, derived from fossil fuels (8 percent of all oil production is used to make plastics), is with climate change a serious threat to the future of the planet, Jagger said.

Premature Discard

The conference was organized by Artists Project Earth at the Royal Geographical Society. Artists contributing to an album to raise funds for the project included Bob Dylan, Coldplay, Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran and Pharrell Williams.

A study by professor Edward Kosior recommending actions necessary to prevent the situation from getting worse said the problem was that a long-lived material was manufactured for short-term use and then discarded.

Kosior said 72 percent of plastic packaging was not recovered, and at least eight million tons leaked into the oceans every year from coastal cities and down large rivers.

There are 150 million tons of plastic in the oceans already, and without significant human intervention to prevent it, the weight of plastic in the sea will be greater than the total weight of fish by 2050.

The problem of plastic entering the oceans was worst in Asia and Africa, where there were few collection and recovery systems. The worst countries at present were China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

In some cases they just heaped up their garbage on river banks, waiting for the next flood to wash it away.

Although the problem of leakage into the seas was smaller in Europe and North America, because there were more sophisticated rubbish collection schemes, their contribution was still large.

Among the solutions was to stop the single use of plastics and find sustainable alternative materials like card, paper or vegetable products. It was important to make the companies who marketed their products in plastic responsible for the environmentally sound management of the packaging at the end of its life.

Incentives like charging a refundable deposit on coffee cups or water bottles had already been successfully adopted in some countries and should be universal.

Offering Incentives

Kosior also suggested increasing the value of plastic in order to give an incentive to people to collect and recycle it so that the waste could be reprocessed and reused.

Campaigning environment journalist Oliver Tickell told the conference that, unlike issues like climate change where it took years to get international legislation in place to reduce greenhouse gases, treaties were already agreed that should prevent plastic from reaching the oceans.

The problem was that the countries that had signed up to international law were not abiding by it.

He gave as an example the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), adding that there were several others. But Article 194 of UNCLOS requires states to "prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from any source."

Action Possible

"Measures shall include, inter alia, those designed to minimise to the fullest possible extent ... the release of toxic, harmful or noxious substances, especially those which are persistent, from land-based sources … [and] shall include those necessary to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life."

Tickell said the fact that dumping plastics was already illegal under international law meant that action could be taken against states that violated it. Small island states that were most affected by plastic waste piling up on their beaches could take on the large countries in the international courts and ask for compensation.

He realized they lacked the resources to do this but suggested that they could be helped to do so by grants from philanthropic organizations or public subscriptions.

"We have already caused irreparable change to the planet, but there is hope that there is still time to prevent the worst and save the planet for our children and grandchildren," said Bianca Jagger.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals
A tiger in Dhikala, Nepal. Ranjith Kumar 2016 / CC BY-SA 4.0

Wild Tiger Population Nearly Doubles in Nepal

Thanks to dedicated conservation efforts, Nepal now has an estimated 235 wild tigers in the country, a nearly twofold increase from its baseline of 121 individuals in 2009, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) announced Sunday on the occasion of Nepal's National Conservation Day.

The South Asian nation is now on track to become the first country to double its tiger population as part of WWF's "TX2" goal to double the world's wild tiger population by 2022—the next year of the tiger on the Chinese zodiac.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
North Carolina hog CAFO in Hurricane Florence floodwaters, Sept. 18. Larry Baldwin / Crystal Coast Waterkeeper / Waterkeeper Alliance

In a Warming World, Carolina CAFOs Are a Disaster for Farmers, Animals and Public Health

By Karen Perry Stillerman

In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, I've joined millions who've watched with horror as the Carolinas have been inundated with floodwaters and worried about the various hazards those waters can contain. We've seen heavy metal-laden coal ash spills, a nuclear plant go on alert (thankfully without incident), and sewage treatment plants get swamped. But the biggest and most widely reported hazard associated with Florence appears to be the hog waste that is spilling from many of the state's thousands of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), and which threatens lasting havoc on public health and the local economy.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Models are seen backstage ahead of the Chika Kisada show during Milan Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2019 on Sept. 24. Tristan Fewings / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

Milan Fashion Week Closes with ‘Oscars of Sustainable Fashion’

Milan Fashion Week closed on Sunday with the second annual "Green Carpet Fashion Awards" to promote sustainability in the fashion industry, Reuters reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
An art installation of a polar bear crossing a New York City street. Thomas Jackson / Getty Images

7 Events to Check Out During the 10th Annual Climate Week NYC

Monday marks the start of the 10th annual Climate Week NYC. From Sept. 24 to the 30, non-profit The Climate Group has invited businesses, governments, nonprofit organizations, universities and art and music organizations to host a wide variety of affiliated events devoted to raising awareness and prompting action around climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Pexels

5 Ingredients for Health: Starting with Food

On Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg, Dr. Robert Graham—board-certified physician and founder of FRESHMed NYC—combines mainstream medical practices with therapies inspired by ancient wisdom: an integrative model of medicine. "My dad was a biochemist, so I grew up in this integrative model. One of the things that really stood out is my mom was distrustful about the conventional Western model. She still thinks she's the only doctor in the house, because food is such a powerful medicine, especially from her culture," said Graham.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Malte Mueller / Getty Images

When Profit Drives Us, Community Suffers

By David Korten

As I was reading the current series of YES! articles on the mental health crisis, I received an email from Darcia Narvaez, professor of psychology at University of Notre Dame. She was sending me articles being prepared for an anthology she is co-editing with the working title Sustainable Vision.The articles present lessons from indigenous culture that underscore why community is the solution to so much of what currently ails humanity.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
The Revelator

Interactive Map: Air Pollution in 2100

By Dipika Kadaba

Having a little trouble breathing lately? That's no surprise. Air pollution is already bad in many parts of the country, and climate change is only going to make it worse. Even though many industries are reducing their emissions, a warming climate could actually offset these reductions by intensifying the rates of chemical reactions and accumulation of pollutants in the environment.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
ddukang / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Is Apple Cider Vinegar Good for You? A Doctor Weighs In

By Gabriel Neal

When my brother and I were kids back in the '80s, we loved going to Long John Silver's.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!