Global Environment Facility (GEF) summarises the state of the science on causes and proposes a framework for prevention.
What does the report aim to do?
"Currently, the causes of marine debris are addressed primarily through waste management practices, such that end-of-pipe solutions are central to action. However, this document explores the underlying cause of land-based plastic debris entering the marine environment, specifically production and consumption patterns of our economies. This includes design and marketing of products which lack appropriate regard for their environmental fate or ability to be recycled, waste management infrastructure, inappropriate disposal. Also the Geographical separation between production in relatively developed economies, and consumption/disposal, which is global."
Why should we be concerned about plastic debris?
Plastic is everywhere and forever
"Man-made debris in the oceans is now found from the poles to the equator and from shorelines, estuaries and the sea surface to ocean floor. While the types and absolute quantities vary, it is clear that plastic materials represent the major constituents of this debris. Because of their buoyancy and durability, plastic items can travel substantial distances."
Plastic debris is rising rapidly
"There is evidence that despite efforts to remove debris from the marine environment and legislation to restrict dumping at sea, quantities of marine litter are stable in some locations and are increasing in others."
Which plastic debris is most worrying?
"In terms of larger debris of particular concern is the accumulation of Abandoned, Lost or Otherwise Discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG) from at sea disposal, including fishing nets which continue to catch fish long after they have become marine debris."
What are the impacts of plastic debris?
"More than 260 species are already known to be affected by plastic debris through entanglement or ingestion. Of the 120 marine mammal species listed on the IUCN Red List 54% are known to have been entangled in or have ingested plastic debris. A sample of all 34 green turtles and 14 of 35 seabirds found along the southern Brazilian seacoast had ingested debris, with plastic being the main ingested material."
|A) Turtle entangled in plastic rope in Caribbean (photo: UNEP-CAR/RCU, 2008); |
B) Entangled seal at Gweek Seal Sanctuary in Cornwall (photo by Caroline Curtis; source: OSPAR 2009);
Plastic debris also has social and economic impact on humans, which are also detailed in the report.
This report sets out to indicate some of the solutions to tackle the underlying causes of marine debris. By doing so, there are potential synergies and benefits for industry, fisheries, as well as benefits for biodiversity together with the potential to reduce global carbon emissions.
Among the report's recommendations are
I) A pilot project or program testing the life-cycle approach to plastic debris prevention, reduction, and management. Making investments that could play a catalytic role in mobilizing public and private sector dialogue and resources for specific market transformation in the production, consumption, and utilization of marine debris sources such as plastics.
II) Focusing on reducing the environmental impacts associated with single-use plastics packaging while at the same time ensuring products retain functionality and are fit-for purpose. By combining existing efforts of plastic producers, packaging and retailer associations, civil society organizations, multilateral institutions to establish a global public-private partnership. Outcomes include encouraging innovation to transform single-use plastics packaging to protect the global environment. This initiative would simultaneously help reduce reliance on non-renewable resources, reduce waste, improve waste management, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The report "Marine Debris as a Global Environmental Problem: Introducing a solutions based framework focused on plastic" (pdf) is available on the UNEP and GEF websites.
I got to know about this report from the Marine Debris mailing list.