It seemed to start very slowly at first. Hardly anyone seemed to notice. But then, something changed.
Has the fight against plastic pollution now begun in earnest?
The Ocean Summit
Recently, I was invited to attend the Ocean Summit in Hong Kong. The summit follows the Volvo Ocean Race as it races across the world. Their aim is simple – to engage a range of local stakeholders in the collaboration and development of solutions to the plastic crisis affecting the world’s oceans.
The event, held in the Volvo Pavilion, at the Race Village, Kai Tak Runway Park, brought together experts from a range of sectors including events, venues, suppliers, solutions providers, consultants and specialists. Some of the topics discussed at the afternoon event, which took place directly after the Volvo Ocean Race Ocean Summit, included how to eliminate single-use plastics in Hong Kong, restrictions from China on accepting recyclables, reusable materials and how to engage with people attending events.
But this year something felt different.
The United Nations
But what had changed?
I asked this very question to the UN’s Chief of Public Advocacy for the Environment, Sam Barratt. Sam runs all the global campaigns for the UN Environment including the Clean Seas campaign (to turn the tide on plastic). He stated simply, “the problem has become so big that people cannot ignore it anymore”.
In response to this global issue and for the first time in history, nearly 200 countries signed up to a United Nations resolution to eliminate plastic in the oceans. The UN has now “declared war” on Ocean plastics. Could this unprecedented step signal a change in global attitudes to plastic pollution? Will we finally start to see progress?
How Big Is The Problem?
The Ellen MacArthur foundation estimates, that by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish. Every year, a staggering 300 million tons of plastic is manufactured – about the same weight as all of humanity added together! 9 Billion tons have already been manufactured and almost all of it still remains, either in landfill or floating in our oceans.
This amount is predicted to increase by 400% over the next 30 years!
The effect of all this plastic waste is having a tremendous impact on our environments.
- Up to 95% of the worlds tap water now contains plastic. Source: Orb Media
- Millions of seabirds and marine mammals die from drowning or as a direct result of eating plastic
- Almost all Fish in the ocean, from juvenile to fully grown 500lb tuna, are now being found with evidence of plastic ingestion.
- Beach and coastal habitats across the world are being destroyed, by plastics which are designed to last forever.
All plastics, even BPA free, contain chemicals that behave as endocrine disruptors. Our endocrine system is vital for a healthy body and these endocrine disruptors are affecting fundamentally the way these systems function. Studies from organisations such as the Mirpuri Foundation are starting to link more and more health issues directly to plastics. Serious issues, such as;
- Early onset puberty
- Developmental issues in foetuses
- Lower IQ
- Anxiety, Fatigue and depression
- Reduced immune system
- Obesity and Diabetes
But Where Is It Coming From?
“Just 10 rivers carry 90% of plastic polluting the oceans“, a new study has found. These 10 rivers represent about 60% of the world’s population. The worst Countries, including China, Philippines and India, are all guilty of poor waste management. They are incapable of managing their own waste.
Of course, it is easy to blame someone else. To point the finger at developing Countries and tut-tut at them. The truth is that we are all responsible for plastic waste. Remember, every time we use plastic it stays with us. It doesn’t break down or biodegrade and less than 5% of it ever gets recycled. It simply remains, for hundreds of years, polluting our planet and killing our animals.
But enough of the doomsday reporting and finger pointing because now is the beginning of the revolution! Just take a look at what is happening around the world, right now!
- David Attenborough’s landmark documentary ‘A Blue Planet II‘, has captured the attention of the world and visualised the impact of plastic pollution in dramatic fashion.
- Nationwide bans on plastics are now being implemented around the world, including the bag ban in Taiwan in 2018.
- Every week thousands of people head to beaches all around the world to clean and raise awareness.
- The United Nations has begun it’s War on ocean plastics and had launched a raft of initiatives, including the #cleanseas initiative.
- Over 60 Governments around the world have announced plans to fight this plastic pollution, including most recently Kenya and the UK.
- Coca-Cola announced a commitment to 100% recycled plastic by 2030
- Every year more and more major international and local advocacy groups join the revolution – The Plastic Pollution Coalition, SKY Ocean Rescue, ABC’s War on Waste, The Lonely Whale Foundation, One Brown Planet
Let’s Get Involved?
Now that the revolution has begun, we all need to get stuck in and help take it to the next level. Here are the top 3 things you can do to help right now!
- Say no to single-use plastics – Including bags, cups and bottle. Plastic knives, forks and spoons and of course straws!
- Tell your friends, family, colleagues to say no too! And tell them why it matters.
- Join a beach clean – One Brown Planet runs one every week along with TAO but there are 1000’s organised all around the world – Go and look for one!