Ensure plastics do not end up in oceans - GulfToday

Ensure plastics do not end up in oceans

Plastic in Sea

A man collects plastic and other recyclable materials from debris in the waters of Manila Bay in Manila. Reuters

The danger posed by single-use plastic products to human and animal health should never be underestimated.

United Nations officials have been repeatedly urging everyone to give up the use of single-use plastic products such as disposable cutlery, water bottles, food containers and shopping bags. Unfortunately, the reactions have been muted.

These environmentally unfriendly products ultimately end up in seas and oceans where they endanger fish, birds and other creatures who mistake it for food or become entangled.

Plastic waste has also entered the human food chain with health consequences that are not yet fully understood.

On the issue of pollution, although global trends are mixed, air, water and soil pollution have continued to increase in some areas, as per UN officials.

Marine plastic pollution in particular has increased tenfold since 1980, affecting at least 267 species including 86 per cent of marine turtles, 44 per cent of seabirds and 43 per cent of marine mammals.

The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being, according to Sir Robert Watson, Chair, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

However, not all is lost. In an indication that good sense has prevailed, around 180 countries reached a deal in Geneva recently that aims to sharply reduce the amount of plastic that gets washed into the world’s oceans.

They agreed to amend the Basel Convention to make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, while also ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment.

The parties to the Basel Convention reaching an agreement on a legally binding, global mechanism for managing plastic waste is a significant and creditable development.

Pollution from plastic waste, acknowledged as a major environmental problem of global concern, has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic now found in the oceans, 80-90% of which comes from land-based sources.

The fact that the negotiations stretched several days and brought together 1,400 delegates indicates the seriousness and genuineness of the participants.

Credit for the forward movement in the efforts to tackle the issue could be given to growing public awareness worldwide, reinforced by documentary films by British naturalist David Attenborough and others, of the dangers of plastic pollution to marine life.

It is good that the Geneva meeting also undertook to eliminate two toxic chemical groups — Dicofol and Perfluorooctanoic Acid — plus related compounds. The latter has been used in a wide variety of industrial and domestic applications including non-stick cookware and food processing equipment, as well as carpets, paper and paints.

An online petition entitled “Stop dumping plastic in paradise!” attracted almost a million signatures.

In 2013, scientists were surprised to find the seas east of Greenland and north of Scandinavia are a dead-end for plastics. Some seas in that region are heavily polluted with plastic because of an Atlantic ocean current which dumps debris there.

The sixth World Ocean Summit, which was held in Abu Dhabi in March, sent a loud and clear message that in creating a sustainable ocean economy, countries around the globe have a real chance at protecting their biodiversity and safeguarding their food and climate security.

The reckless dumping of plastic in the oceans should stop and it is heartening that things are moving in that direction.

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