Marine Litter Vital Graphics

July 11 2016

Professor Elaine Baker recently contributed to a new report released by the United Nations Environment Programme. The report, Marine Litter Vital Graphics, highlights why it is important to act now if we want to avoid living in a sea of plastic by mid-century. Though short-term fixes do exist, any lasting solution to the problem of plastic pollution must include tackling it as its source. The world population in 1950 was 2.5 billion and global production of plastic was 1.5 million tonnes. Today there are more than 7 billion people in the world and plastic production exceeds 300 million tonnes annually. The Marine Litter Vital Graphics report states that if the trend continues, by 2050 we will accumulate another 33 billion tonnes of plastic. Microplastic particles are routinely being found in the stomachs of commercial seafood and larger plastic debris, including abandoned and lost fishing nets, pose a serious threat to many marine organisms, including endangered turtle species.

To adequately address this issue, we need “upstream” governance actions that can help reduce the amount of plastic that enters the environment. Recycling is one example, but that captures only a small portion of waste plastic. Other actions include putting in place financial disincentives to the production and use of plastic materials. New rules governing a number of production processes are starting to emerge, such as plastic pellets in California, plastic bags in Bangladesh, South Africa, China and Rwanda, polystyrene foam in Haiti and Vanuatu and microbeads in Canada and the USA. Australia has instituted a voluntary phase out of products containing microbeads by 2018, but perhaps its time we took a stronger stand.
(adapted from UNEP Press release July 6 2016).