On the heels of World Oceans Day and World Environment Day, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Ocean Conservancy announced a report on June 8 declaring that plastic bags and bottles and tobacco products account for most of the litter in the world’s oceans and beaches.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner insisted that plastic bags should be banned worldwide.
"[T]here is simply zero justification for manufacturing [thin film plastic bags] anymore, anywhere,” he remarked.
He sees marine litter as a symptom of widespread insufficient waste management and preservation of natural resources. Increased attention to recycling and waste reduction would reduce the impact of trash on oceans and seas, he said.
Life, Environments Threatened
UNEP’s 234-page report, Marine Litter: A Global Challenge, is a new analysis of marine litter in the 12 major seas. It concludes that despite action to ameliorate marine pollution by international and regional efforts, an astounding amount of trash cast into oceans still seriously threatens human health, wildlife, coastal environments and marine equipment.
According to the report, plastic bags and PET bottles account for more than 80 percent of all garbage collected in several seas examined under the study. Degraded plastic is consumed by marine life, which contains toxic compounds. Cigarette filters, tobacco packs and cigar tips comprise 40 percent of all marine litter in the Mediterranean, it finds. In Ecuador, tobacco trash is more than half of the total litter pickup in 2005, it adds.
In many instances, trash thrown into the ocean is carried far from its origin by winds and currents, UNEP explains. The largest source of marine litter is land-based activities. Many industries and trades are affected and suffer. For example, tourism, one of the world’s biggest trades, contributes greatly to the marine pollution dilemma … and is negatively affected by it at the same time.
Philippe Cousteau, CEO of EarthEcho International and Ocean Conservancy board member, said action must be taken now. Vikki Spruill, President and CEO of Ocean Conservancy, echoed those conclusions, noting that we need the ocean to survive in terms of oxygen, food and climate.