Over 700 organisations across the globe have urged the United Nations to establish an international treaty to address plastic pollution ahead of a bloc meeting.
Plastic production is expected to more than double by 2040, quadrupling waste in the world’s oceans by 2050.
A new report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned on Tuesday that between 19 and 23 million tons of plastic waste enters the world’s waterways every year – an amount that is only expected to rise.
“From the poles to the remotest islands, from the surface of the sea to the deepest ocean trench, the marine plastic pollution problem has grown exponentially,” the report said.
The organisation estimates that even if pollution is completely halted, the amount of marine microplastics would still double by 2050, threatening marine life in multiple ways.
A recent study in the United Arab Emirates found that 75 percent of all dead green turtles and 57 percent of all loggerhead turtles in Sharjah had consumed marine debris, reports The Associated Press.
Both turtle species are endangered, according to the World Conservation Union.
“From pieces of plastic in the stomach, deadly snares around the neck to chemical plasticizers in the blood, the dangers to marine life are immense,” the WWF said in a press release.
The WWF report reviewed over 2,590 studies to assess the impact and scale of plastic pollution on ocean species and ecosystems, finding that almost every species group had encountered plastic pollution.
“According to a conservative assessment of current research, a total of 2,141 species have so far been found to encounter plastic pollution in their natural environments,” said the WWF.
The review found that 88 percent of marine species studied were negatively impacted by plastic, and up to 90 percent of all seabirds and 52 percent of all sea turtles ingested plastic.
The WWF report highlighted the grave threat of microplastics and nanoplastics in the ocean as their volume continues to multiply as pieces of plastic degrade into smaller and smaller particles.
“Once plastic is in the ocean it’s almost impossible to remove it. Moreover, once it has entered the ocean, it continues to break down: macroplastics become microplastics, and microplastics become nanoplastics, making recovery even more unlikely,” said the report.
According to the WWF, single-use plastics account for 60-95 percent of global marine plastic pollution, leading to 115 countries banning its use.
Plastic pollution not only affects the world food chain, but also ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves.
Key global regions, including the Mediterranean, the East China and Yellow Seas and Arctic sea ice are at serious risk from microplastic build up, after exceeding the WWF’s plastic pollution thresholds.
However, while marine pollution is a global threat, there is yet to be a global solution for it.
Countries across the world do not have a common legal framework in place for plastic production and waste management, making efforts to protect marine ecosystems further challenging.
The WWF is among more than 700 organisations from 113 countries that have urged the United Nations to establish an international treaty to address the plastics crisis ahead of a bloc meeting this month.
“We are calling for a legally binding global instrument on plastic pollution covering measures along the entire life cycle of plastics, including extraction of feedstocks, production, transport, use, disposal, and remediation,” they said in December 2021.
Turkiye's Microplastic Research Group also signed the call to action alarmed by the "unbearable pollution pressure" plastic has caused the planet, marine biologist and chief scientist of the organisation Dr Sedat Gundogdu told TRT World.
"Globally, we believe that plastic pollution and chemical pollution are now exceeding safe limits for the planet and humanity and that their production level should be restricted immediately," said Gundogdu.
"Plastic pollution is now present from the top of Mount Everest to the deepest points of the oceans and has now even reached the placenta," he added.
UN delegates will meet in Kenya’s capital Nairobi from February 28 to March 2 for the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) where negotiations about a treaty are expected to take place.
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said she is confident that Member States will “decide on the path forward that makes a real difference to address plastic pollution” at the UNEA-5.
“Member States will be deliberating on proposals at the resumed fifth session of UNEA with the aim to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) to work towards a legally binding global instrument,” she said in a Q&A by the UNEP.
Andersen said the goal would be for the treaty to be completed by the sixth session of UNEA, which she called “a highly ambitious timeframe, reflecting Member States’ understanding of the urgency to make progress on this critical environmental challenge.”
Call to action
There are currently two draft resolutions on plastic pollution to be discussed at the UNEA-5: one from Japan that focuses specifically on marine life and one from Rwanda and Peru, which addresses plastic pollution in all environments.
Both call for a treaty that will include an intergovernmental negotiating committee, national action plans, worldwide cooperation, technical support, and research and innovation.
The UK’s Environmental Investigation Agency also laid out a foundation for a Convention on Plastic Pollution that creates a safe circular economy for plastics from source to sea.
All these plans agree on one thing: the impact of increasing plastic production paired with insufficient waste management is wreaking havoc on world health and must be addressed urgently.
As all eyes turn to the UN for change, world leaders, activists and even businesses continue to push for environmental conservation.
Pope Francis rebuked organisations and individuals that continue to litter the world’s oceans on Monday.
"Throwing plastic into the sea is criminal. It kills biodiversity, it kills the earth, it kills everything," said Francis in an interview on state broadcaster RAI's Channel 3.