U.N. Gathers to Discuss Ocean Pollution, Plastic Bags

Posted by — June 9, 2009 4:37 pm

On Monday the United Nations gathered to discuss three major threats to the ocean: overfishing, climate change and plastic bags.

Plastic bags have become the notorious symbol of human’s inability to adopt an eco-friendly method of waste management. Much of the disposable plastic intended to reach a landfill blows into waterways suffocating and polluting marine life.

According to McClatchyDC.com, about 90 billion plastic bags each year in the United States do not get recycled, despite the ever-growing plastic-bag recycling stations popping up at major grocery chains. (McClatchy) This does not include plastic bag proliferation in other countries.

“Single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere,” said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the U.N. environmental program.

Steiner said plastic bags tell the larger problem of the world’s ‘systemic’ waste.

“Marine litter is symptomatic of a wider malaise: namely the wasteful use and persistent poor management of natural resources,” Steiner said. (Reuters)

To reduce depletion of more natural resources, plastic bag manufacturers have responded by recycling plastic bags to make more plastic bags. Some plastic bag manufacturers have a goal to increase the recycled content of plastic bags by 40 percent in the next five years. Simply recycling plastic bags into more plastic bags could reduce bag litter by 300 million pounds a year.

Currently U.S. cities such as Los Angeles and Washington D.C. are working to either ban or put a fee on plastic bags. Washington D.C.’s fee appropriates some of the money to funding a reusable bag program for low income families and the elderly. Much of this legislation is not meant to hurt the poor, but to encourage people to bring bags with them when they shop.

Compared to places overseas, U.S. municipalities are slow to move. Other nations have made stride, such as China, where a vendor could be charged upwards of $1,400 for dispersing plastic bags. The country banned plastic bags to help reduce pollution. According to a survey, the ban has thwarted 40 billion plastic bags from entering the waste stream.

An April 2009 report by the U.N., titled “Marine Litter: a Global Challenge,” illustrates the expanse of the problem in 234 pages of research. In the introductory pages, the issue of marine litter is addressed. The authors define marine litter as anything that is ‘deliberately’ thrown into waterways. The diagnosis for humans’ relationship with these waterways is grim.

“The problems [marine litter] causes are both cultural and multi-sectoral, rooted in poor solid waste management practices, extensive use of marine resources, lack of infrastructure, indiscriminate human activities and behaviors, and an inadequate understanding on the part of the public of the potential consequences of their actions.” (UNEP Report)

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