The report underlines the negative effects on human health, the economy, biodiversity, and climate change. It also claims that a significant reduction in wasteful, avoidable, and problematic plastic is critical to tackling global pollution.
It suggests an expedited transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies, the elimination of subsidies, and a shift toward more circular approaches to waste reduction to help reduce plastic waste at the scale required.
The paper, titled From Pollution to Solution: a Global Assessment of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution, indicates an increasing concern from source to sea across all ecosystems.
However, it also demonstrates that the know-how exists to avert the looming calamity, assuming that political will exists and immediate action is made.
The statement, which comes ten days before the key UN Climate Conference, COP26, emphasizes that plastics are also a climate issue.
For example, greenhouse gas emissions from plastics were 1.7 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2015. By 2050, they’re expected to reach 6.5 gigatonnes. That figure reflects 15% of the total global carbon budget or the amount of greenhouse gas that can be released while still staying within the Paris Agreement’s warming targets.
Not Enough Recycling
The writers cast doubt on our capability to recycle our way out of the plastic pollution challenge regarding solutions.
They also warn against potentially harmful alternatives, such as bio-based or biodegradable plastics, which now represent the same concern as traditional plastics.
The report examines market failures such as the low price of virgin fossil fuel feedstocks compared to recycled materials, as well as disjointed efforts in informal and formal plastic waste management and a lack of global consensus on solutions.
Instead, the report recommends a drastic reduction in plastic manufacturing and consumption, as well as a reform of the entire value chain.
It also calls for much more comprehensive and effective monitoring mechanisms to track down plastic’s sources, scale, and fate. In the end, a change to circular techniques and additional options are required.
Developing A Case For Change
This report “provides the clearest scientific justification to date for the urgency to act, and for concerted action to safeguard and restore our oceans, from source to sea,” according to UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
What happens with breakdown products like microplastics and chemical additives, both known to be harmful and dangerous to human and wildlife health and ecosystems, is a huge worry, she said.
“It’s encouraging to see how quickly ocean plastic pollution is gaining public attention. Ms. Andersen suggested that “we must leverage this momentum to focus on the prospects for a clean, healthy, and resilient ocean.”
The issue is becoming more serious.
Plastic currently makes up about 85 percent of all marine debris.
It will nearly triple by 2040, dumping 23-37 million metric tons of garbage into the ocean each year. This equates to around 50 kilograms of plastic per meter of coastline.
As a result, all marine life confronts a serious risk of toxification, behavioral disorder, malnutrition, and asphyxia, from plankton and shellfish to birds, turtles, and mammals.
The human body is vulnerable in the same way. Plastics are found in seafood, beverages, and even common salt. They also infiltrate the skin and are inhaled when hanging in the air.
This contamination in water sources has been linked to hormonal alterations, developmental issues, reproductive abnormalities, and even cancer.
According to the paper, there are also huge ramifications for the global economy.
When including effects on tourism, fisheries, and aquaculture and the expense of programs like clean-ups, the costs were estimated to be between $6 and $19 billion per year in 2018.
If governments force corporations to shoulder waste management costs, businesses could face a $100 billion yearly financial risk by 2040. It may lead to an increase in unlawful trash disposal both domestically and internationally.
The report will inform debates at the United Nations Environment Assembly in 2022 when countries will meet to discuss a path forward for greater global collaboration.