More microplastics in seas than stars in our galaxy

The UN’s environment agency has launched an unprecedented global campaign urging everyone to stop using microplastics and disposable plastics before they cause irreversible damage to the world’s seas and 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,” Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of UNEP, said in a statement announcing the campaign.

“We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop,” he added.

With its Clean Seas campaign, the agency is calling on countries and businesses alike to take measures to eliminate microplastics from personal-care products like toothpaste and facial cleansers, ban or tax disposable plastic bags, and dramatically reduce other disposable plastic items by 2022.

Ten countries have already joined the initiative. According to a UN statement, 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.

Up to 80 per cent of all litter in the oceans are made of plastic, explains the UN. And the problem is immense: as much as 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy – now litter the seas.

Each year, more than eight million metric tonnes of plastic end up in oceans, and estimates indicate that by 2050 oceans will have more plastic than fish if present trends are not reversed.

According to UNEP, just a few simple actions could stem the growing tide of maritime litter: using reusable shopping bags and water bottles, choosing cosmetics products without microbeads and plastic packaging, and not using straws to drink.

Similarly, on larger and commercial scale, supply chains can be modified. The computer manufacturer Dell, for example, recently announced that it will use recovered ocean plastic in its product packaging.

 

Image credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

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