Report: Utter mismanagement of plastic waste is devasting marine ecoysystems

Some of the plastic marine waste accumulating in the oceans has become concentrated in the center of the Pacific Ocean by the North Pacific Gyre.

UCLA environmental and policy experts outline steps needed to tackle the problem

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new report on plastic pollution in the world’s oceans doesn’t mince words, calling the current state of affairs a “global mismanagement” of plastic waste.

Singling out plastic litter as one of the most significant problems facing marine environments, the policy brief from UCLA researchers documents the devastating effects of plastic marine litter and outlines why existing international legal mechanisms are inadequate to resolve the litter crisis.

It also offers a top-10 list of proposed actions, including a new international treaty with strong monitoring and enforcement mechanisms; domestic and local regulatory actions, such as bans of the most common and damaging types of plastic litter; extended producer-responsibility programs; and the creation of an “ocean friendly” certification program for plastic products.

It’s hard to get an accurate tally of plastic waste entering the oceans, but it may be as much as 20 million tons annually, according to the best available estimates. The waste has a wide range of impacts, including direct mortality to marine life, degraded coral reefs, damage to sea vessels and lost tourism and fisheries revenues — not to mention billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

“Plastic marine litter is a growing global environmental threat imposing major economic costs on industry and government,” said report co-author Mark Gold, an associate director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

“Marine plastic pollution slowly degrades and has spread to every corner of the world’s oceans, from remote islands to the ocean floor. Voluntary half-measures are not preventing devastating global impacts to marine life, the economy and public health. Although there is no one panacea, we have identified the top 10 plastic pollution–prevention actions that can be implemented now to begin drastically reducing plastic marine litter,” Gold said in a release.

“Because global mismanagement of plastic is fueling the growing marine litter problem, policy responses are needed at all levels, from the international community of nations down to national and local communities,” said report co-author Cara Horowitz, executive director of the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment. “We can act now to rapidly scale up effective policies and programs to address plastic marine litter. And hopefully, international collaboration to reduce plastic litter will lay a foundation for broader cooperation on other significant issues affecting the health of our oceans.”

Plastic marine litter has its origins in both land- and ocean-based sources, from untreated sewage and industrial and manufacturing sites to ships and oil and gas platforms. Pushed by the natural motion of wind and ocean currents — often over long distances — the litter is present in oceans worldwide, as well as in sea floor sediment and coastal sands. As the particles break down and disperse, they have a wide range of adverse environmental, public health and economic consequences with the potential to kill wildlife, destroy natural resources and disrupt the food chain.


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