Why we need to fix the plastic pollution problem
This marine litter and plastic pollution endangers aquatic life, threatens human health and results in myriad hidden costs for the economy. Such a global threat requires a global response, and the upcoming United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) is an important stage for governments and policymakers to catalyse change.
At the resumed fifth session of UNEA – held virtually and in-person in Nairobi between 28 February and 2 March 2022 – world leaders will focus on plastics and deliberate on proposals with the aim of establishing an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) to work towards a legally binding global agreement.https://www.youtube.com/embed/l_bntX5rAZ8
Marine litter and plastic pollution can alter habitats and natural processes, reducing ecosystems’ ability to adapt to the climate crisis, according to UNEP’s From Pollution to Solution report. This affects millions of people’s livelihoods, food security and social well-being. Urgent, multilateral action is needed to identify where plastic waste enters waterways and how to
To optimize policy changes to plastic production and use, it is important to identify how plastic pollution makes its way into the sea. Of the estimated, 11 million tons of plastic pollution that enter the ocean every year, up 2.7 million tons come from rivers. UNEP leads two key initiatives to study and address these inputs.
In North America, through the Mississippi River Plastic Pollution Initiative, UNEP engages citizen science by working with thousands of community volunteers to track upstream and coastal plastic pollution data along the Mississippi River. This data is collected using a free, open-source mobile app called the Marine Debris Tracker.
In South-East Asia, UNEP’s CounterMEASURE project identifies sources and pathways of plastic pollution in river systems, particularly the Mekong and the Ganges. With the use of technologies and innovative approaches like GIS, machine learning and drones, the project has developed plastic leakage models for localities in six countries that can be scaled and replicated across continents.
To highlight the scale of the issue, UNEP has prepared a plastics exhibit in Nairobi for UNEA 5.2. The exhibit presents visitors with a visual representation of key data related to the plastic pollution problem by using plastic waste collected on the Kenyan coast.
One installation uses lobster traps that were abandoned and lost. These traps are one metre wide and have been filled with 50 kg of plastic litter each. This represents the amount of plastic per metre of coastline that enters the ocean every year.
Another shows a “Giant Tap.” This larger than life, three-story art installation – a creation by Ben Von Wong – artistically demonstrates the scale of the plastic pollution problem and the urgency for humanity to turn off the plastic tap from source to sea.
UNEP’s body of work demonstrates that the problem of plastic pollution doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The environmental, social, economic and health risks of plastics need to be assessed alongside other environmental stressors, like climate change, ecosystem degradation and resource use.
The United Nations Environment Assembly is the world’s highest environmental decision-making body. Through its resolutions and calls to action, the assembly provides leadership and catalyses intergovernmental action on the environment.
Soruce: UNEP – United Nations Environment Programme.