UN: UNEP meeting raises red flag on plastic waste

Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) - Concern is growing over the threat that widespread plastic waste poses to marine life, with conservative estimates of the overall financial damage of plastics to marine ecosystems standing at US$13 billion each year.

The disturbing development is captured in two reports released at the ongoing inaugural United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya.

The 11th edition of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Year Book looks at ten issues flagged as emerging by previous reports over the past decade, including plastic waste in the ocean.

The UNEP Year Book 2014 gives an update on each issue and provides options for action. Other areas covered include the environmental impacts of excess nitrogen and marine aquaculture, air pollution's deadly toll, and the potential of citizen science.

Valuing Plastic, a UNEP-supported report produced by the Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP) and Trucost, makes the business case for managing and disclosing plastic use in the consumer goods industry.

It finds that the overall natural capital cost of plastic use in the consumer goods sector each year is US$75 billion - financial impacts resulting from issues such as pollution of the marine environment or air pollution caused by incinerating plastic.

The report says over 30 per cent of the natural capital costs of plastic are due to greenhouse gas emissions from raw material extraction and processing.

However, it notes that marine pollution is the largest downstream cost, and that the figure of US$13 billion is likely a significant underestimate.

"Plastics have come to play a crucial role in modern life, but the environmental impacts of the way we use them cannot be ignored," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.

"These reports show that reducing, recycling and redesigning products that use plastics can bring multiple green economy benefits.

''The benefits range from reducing economic damage to marine ecosystems and the tourism and fisheries industries, vital for many developing countries, to bringing savings and opportunities for innovation to companies while reducing reputational risks," he added.

The UNEP boss added: "Our economies are still largely fossil-fuel based, with the environmental, economic and health costs hidden. For example, in the polar regions, scientists have recently found tiny pieces of plastic trapped in sea ice.

"Transported by ocean currents across great distances, these contaminated particles eventually become a source of chemicals in our food. The key course of action is to prevent plastic debris from entering the environment in the first place, which translates into a single powerful objective: reduce, reuse, recycle."

A large and unquantifiable amount of plastic waste enters the ocean from littering, poorly managed landfills, tourist activities and fisheries.

Some of this material sinks to the ocean floor, while some floats and can travel over great distances on ocean currents - polluting shorelines and accumulating in massive mid-ocean gyres.

The report made the following recommendations on tackling the problem:

- Companies should monitor their plastic use and publish the results in annual reports.

- Companies should commit to reducing the environmental impact of plastic through clear targets and deadlines, and innovate  to increase resource efficiency and recycling.

- There should be an increased focus on awareness campaigns to discourage littering and prevent plastic waste from reaching the ocean.
-0- PANA DJ/SEG 25June2012

25 june 2014 08:32:41

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