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10 countries join UN environment’s war on marine litter

BALI: The UN Environment on Thursday launched an unprecedented global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter: microplastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic by 2022.

Ten countries – Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Grenada, Indonesia, Norway, Panama, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone and Uruguay – have joined the the #CleanSeas campaign, launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in this Indonesian island known for coral reefs.

The campaign urges governments to pass plastic reduction policies; targets industry to minimise plastic packaging and redesign products; and calls on consumers to change their throwaway habits — before irreversible damage is done to the seas.

UN Environment head Erik Solheim, who launched the campaign here, said, “It’s 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,” he said.

According to the UN Environment, 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.

Apart from these 10 countries, DELL Computers, singer Jack Johnson, actor Adrian Grenier and media personality Nadya Hutagalung are already on board. 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.

Each year, more than eight 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. Up to 80 per cent of all litter in the oceans is made of plastic.

According to some estimates, at the rate the people are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, by 2050, oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic.

As many as 51 trillion microplastic particles — 500 times more than stars in our galaxy — litter the seas, seriously threatening marine wildlife.

Hutagalung supports CleanSeas by calling on the cosmetics industry to stop adding microplastics to their products, while singer-songwriter and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador 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.

“I support the Clean Seas campaign because I believe there are better alternatives to single-use disposable plastics, and that we as consumers can encourage innovation and ask businesses to take responsibility for the environmental impact of the products they produce,” he said, adding everyone can start by making personal commitments by carrying reusable shopping 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.”

Globally recognised brands are also joining the fight.

1DELL Computers on Thursday unveiled a commercial-scale supply chain using plastic which has been fished out of the sea near Haiti for its product packaging.

“DELL is committed to putting technology and expertise to work for a plastic-free ocean,” said Dell’s vice president for Global Operations Piyush Bhargava.

“Our new supply chain brings us one step closer to UN Environment’s vision of Clean Seas by proving that recycled ocean plastic can be commercially reused.”

Grenier, known for his role in hit TV show and film “Entourage”, and founder of Lonely Whale Foundation, is asking people to re-think their daily choices.

“Whether we choose to use plastic bags at the grocery store or sip through a plastic straw, our seemingly small daily decisions to use plastics are having a dramatic effect on our oceans,” he said. “We have the power to effect change.”

Major announcements are expected during The Ocean Conference in New York at the UN Headquarters June 5-9 and the December UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi.

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