Concern is growing over the threat that widespread plastics waste poses to marine life after conservative estimates of the overall financial damage to marine ecosystems were calculated at USD 13 billion per year. This is the headline message from two reports released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Read more...
The 11th edition of the UNEP Year Book – ‘UNEP Year Book 2014’ – considers 10 emerging issues flagged in previous reports over the past decade, including plastics waste in the ocean. The Year Book first looked at plastics waste in the marine environment in 2011. Since then, concern over the danger of plastics has grown steadily due to increased reports of marine organisms ingesting them with fatal consequences. This year’s edition considers the emerging issue of the increased use of microplastics in consumer products, such as microbeads in toothpaste, gels and facial cleansers.
‘Valuing Plastic’, a UNEP-supported report written by the Plastic Disclosure Project and Trucost, presents the business case for managing and disclosing plastics use in the consumer goods industry. It calculates that the annual natural capital cost of plastics use in the consumer goods sector is USD 75 billion, primarily due to pollution in the marine environment and air pollution caused by incinerating plastics. While over 30% of the natural capital cost of plastics is attributable to greenhouse gas emissions from raw material extraction and processing, marine pollution is the largest downstream cost and is conservatively estimated at USD 13 billion.
The two reports also make recommendations for further action to address the plastics waste issue. These include companies monitoring plastics use, publishing the results in annual reports, and committing to clear targets and deadlines to reduce the environmental impact of plastics. They also recommend that awareness campaigns to discourage littering should be more prevalent and that more emphasis should be placed on filling knowledge gaps regarding marine organisms ingesting microplastics and the dangers this represents to marine biodiversity and through the food web.
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