UN launches global #CleanSeas campaign to end marine litter

The UN has launched a major global #CleanSeas campaign to eliminate sources of marine litter including microplastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic by the year 2022.

Launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, the #CleanSeas campaign is urging governments to pass plastic reduction policies; targeting industry to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products; and calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits – before irreversible damage is done to our seas.

CleanSeas Campaign_UNEP Shawn Heinrichs

Copyright: UNEP/Shawn Heinrichs

How much plastic is in our oceans?

The UN estimates that with the current rate of dumping plastic in the oceans, that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans! It also estimates that by 2050, 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic.

Every year, over 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and costing at least $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. The vast majority (up to 80 per cent) of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic.

What are the social, environmental and economic impacts of marine litter?

Marine litter harms over 600 marine species and 15% of these species are endangered. Marine life is affected by litter through entanglement and ingestion which can result in physical harm and death.

It can also disrupt ecological functions  and through the buildup of ingested microplastics, have the potential to affect human health through POPs

Scientists are also concerned that plastics (and toxins they contain like PCBs and DDT) could be adsorbed by the organisms that ingest them and that through bio-accumulation they could affect animals higher up in the food chain including humans. 

The socio-economic impacts of marine debris include changes to beach tourism and the fishing industry and costs associated with beach cleanups.

What can we do to clean the seas and get involved in the UN’s #CleanSeas campaign?

Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, said, “It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our 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. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.”

Throughout the year, the #CleanSeas campaign will be announcing ambitious measures by countries and businesses to eliminate microplastics from personal care products, ban or tax single-use bags, and dramatically reduce other disposable plastic items.

Ten countries have already joined the campaign with far-reaching pledges to turn the plastic tide. Indonesia has committed to slash its marine litter by a massive 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.

Media personality Nadya Hutagalung supports #CleanSeas by calling on the cosmetics industry to stop adding microplastics to their products. As many as 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy – litter our seas, seriously threatening marine wildlife.

Singer-songwriter and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador Jack Johnson pledged to engage with fans and encourage venues for his 2017 Summer Tour to reduce single-use plastics. Johnson is also promoting a new documentary The Smog of the Sea, which highlights the issue of microplastics permeating the world’s oceans.

“We can all start today by making personal commitments to reduce plastic waste by carrying reusable shoppings bags and water bottles, saying no to straws and choosing products without microbeads and plastic packaging. We can also support the efforts of the emerging youth leaders around the world working for healthy and plastic free oceans” says Johnson.

Globally recognized brands are also joining the fight. DELL Computers unveiled today a commercial-scale supply chain using plastic which has been fished out of the sea near Haiti. The computer giant will use the recovered ocean plastic in its product packaging.

All these actions will be crucial to stemming the tide of marine litter. Today, we are producing twenty times more plastic than in the 1960s. Around one third of all plastic is used for packaging. By 2050 our plastic production will have to grow three to four times to satisfy our demand. A large portion will end up in oceans where it will remain for centuries.

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