A panel of experts from around the world put together a report in 2020 on the present state of plastic pollution in our oceans. This report is available at www.pewtrusts.org. Without action, the annual flow of plastics into the ocean will nearly triple by 2040, compounding the risk for marine species and ecosystems, climate, economy, and communities.
Microplastics (tiny pieces of plastic now in the air we breathe and water we drink) comes from tire dust (daily driving), textiles, personal care products, and plastic pellets. Microplastics also cause cancer.
Plastic products that go into landfills (diapers, containers, shopping bags) take a long time to degrade and enter our soil and groundwater, affecting plants and animals too. Some of this plastic pollution ends up in our rivers that flow into the ocean. About 30% of macroplastic pollution (bigger visible pieces) comes from maritime sources (shipping products, the fishing industry).
The report states that industry and governments have the solutions today to reduce rates of annual land-based plastic leakage into the ocean by 80% by 2040, while delivering on societal, economic and environmental objectives. The report describes an integrated system-wide plan for how this can be done. These include:
1. Reduce growth in plastic production and consumption.
2. Substitute some plastic products with paper and compostable materials.
3. Design products and packaging for recycling.
4. Expand waste-collection rates in middle to low-income countries to 90% in urban areas and 50% in rural areas and support the local collection sector. Sixty percent of plastic recycling is done by 11 million low-paid workers “pickers” in poor countries under unhealthy conditions from plastic waste shipped there.
5. Double mechanical recycling capacity globally.
6. Develop plastic-to-plastic conversion.
7. Build facilities to dispose of the 23% of plastic that cannot by recycled as a transitional measure.
8. Reduce plastic waste exports by 90% to countries with low collection and high leakage rates.
9. Roll out known solutions for microplastic sources to reduce this leakage into the air and water.
The panel discussed the roles of all stake holders in solving this problem including governments, businesses, investors, civil society and consumers. Ideas for you:
1. Stop using plastic shopping bags, water bottles, cups, utensils and baggies.
2. Look for alternatives to products in plastic bottles (e.g., bars of shampoo and cream rinse, stick butter instead of in a tub, laundry detergent sheets).
3. Buy fresh when you can to avoid packaging.
4. Use washed jars with lids to store leftover food in.
5. Use public transportation, ride your bike, walk to reduce driving.
6. Advocate for change with your family, friends, local businesses and leaders.
7. Donate to groups working on the problem (e.g., 4oceans).
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