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© Vincent Kneefel
Why is plastic waste harmful?Plastic waste is choking our planet. It pollutes the air, water, and soil both people and wildlife need to survive. Every year up to 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the world’s seas and oceans and harms sea life. Marine organisms, such as sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and birds often entagle in plastics or swallow it, which very often has fatal consequences for them.
But plastic is not harmful only for animals and nature, it also enters the human body.
We eat 5 grams of plastics a week?Plastic never decomposes entirely. Instead, it breaks down into tiny fragments called microplastics, small enough to enter our food chain. We could be consuming over 100,000 pieces of microplastics a year. That’s approximately 5 grams of plastic a week, which is equal to one credit card. On a monthly basis, that number grows to 21 gram, which is 250 grams a year. Watch the video
© James Morgan/WWF US
A BIG STEP FORWARDIn early March 2022, a big step forward was made in the fight against plastic pollution. UN Member states at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) have unanimously agreed to develop a legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution. The treaty will be developed by 2024, and WWF committed to support the work in finalizing the important details of this historic treaty.
This treaty will incorporate global regulations across the full lifecycle of plastics, including product design standards, reusing and recycling of plastic products. This will hold nations, businesses, and society accountable in eliminating plastic pollution from our environments.
With the support of almost 2.5 million people around the world that have signed a WWF petition calling for this treaty, over 120 global companies, and more than 1,000 civil society organizations, we managed to encourage the world leaders to reach this agreement. Rules that include the full lifecycle of plastics, the transition to a circular economy and the involvement of all important stakeholders can lead to a more effective solution to the problem of plastic pollution. READ MORE
LET'S GET BACK TO THE 5 GRAMS A WEEK A LITTLE BIT. HOW DID WE CALCULATE THAT?There have been multiple reports in the media on the microplastics we are ingesting – through our food (shellfish, honey and salt), our drinks (tap water, bottled water and beer), and even the air. We worked with Newcastle University to calculate the approximate weight of the average amount of microplastics that these studies demonstrate we are ingesting. The full analysis is available here if you are interested in understanding more.
IS THIS DAMAGING TO MY HEALTH?The truth is, we don’t know. We know that plastics are doing irreparable harm to wildlife, but scientists have only just started looking at what it’s doing to human health. Two studies have found plastics in our blood and our lungs. Can we be sure is has damaging impacts to our health? No, but we do know that plastics we ingest have some harmful chemical compounds. Does that mean we can rest easy? Absolutely not. After all, you wouldn’t choose to eat an actual credit card, right?
HOW CAN WE REALLY SOLVE THIS PROBLEM?While saying "no" to straws and bringing along a reusable bag are great first steps, which you absolutely must do, it’s governments and business who need to solve this. For this exact reason, we at WWF have launched a petition calling on governments around the world to sign a global legally binding treaty that would simplify the use and disposal of plastics. We are proud to say that our efforts have been successful, with almost 2.5 million signatures collected and the support of many global companies and civil society organizations. We have shown that together we can make a difference!
This global legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution will be developed by 2024, and WWF has committed to support its finalization. We hope that this treaty will lead to a more efficient solution to the problem of plastic waste pollution throughout the entire lifecycle of plastics - from production, through consumption to disposal. In addition, the agreement will contain the solutions to problems of plastic reuse and recycling.
SHOULD WE BAN ALL PLASTIC?Plastic is not inherently bad; it is a man-made invention that has generated significant benefits for society, and even in some cases, the environment. Unfortunately, the way industry and governments have managed plastics and the way society has converted it into a disposable and single use commodity transformed this innovation into a planetary disaster. The way we use and dispose of plastics must change for the sake of not just the environment – but also our economy.
WHAT CAN I DO AS AN INDIVIDUAL?Make sure your voice is heard. Tell everyone from your government leaders to the owners of the businesses you frequent that you want them to solve this problem. Governments and businesses can’t ignore hundreds of millions of voices, as our petition has proven.
In addition, plastic products are reusable, don’t use them once and throw them away, replace plastic bags with reusable ones, replace plastic straws with metal straws, or stop using them completely, and learn to dispose of plastic waste - reuse and recycling are very important.
WHAT GOVERNMENTS CAN DO?Governments the world over fall too easily into blaming either businesses ("they are using the plastic so they need to fix this mess") or consumers ("they are buying the plastic products so they need to fix this mess") for this crisis. Let’s break this circle of denial and all accept our role in the problem. WWF is sending a clear message to governments worldwide – the only way we can change this broken system is to endorse a global legally binding treaty on tackling plastics. The existing legal framework covering marine plastic pollution is fragmented and ineffective, and does not provide the tools necessary for an effective global response to the problem. This issue cannot be solved on a national or regional level, or through non-binding, voluntary measures alone. It requires coordinated international action, shared responsibility and a common approach.
Developing a legally binding agreement and its effective implementation will make it possible to solve this very important problem of plastic pollution. Member states and businesses are responsible for caring for their own environment. We all have an important role in caring for the health of our planet. Following the creation of the agreement, it will be the duty of each Member State to implement it at a national level.
WHAT BUSINESSES CAN DO?Plastic is a cost effective, useful and flexible material which, when used properly, can actually have a positive overall environmental impact. But our current systems of production don’t use plastics properly. We see plastic as a cheap, single-use, disposable product – which is crazy, because plastic by its very nature is not disposable. It lasts for hundreds of years.
It’s currently often cheaper for businesses to buy brand new virgin plastic (made, by the way, from oil) rather than buy recycled plastic. This system is broken. Businesses should play a part by ensuring that their production models reward the reuse of plastic rather than the constant use and immediate disposal of virgin plastic. They can stop wilfully participating in the endless circle of denial that sees businesses claim it’s solely a waste management problem (i.e. “it’s not our fault that local governments don’t recycle”) and instead take proactive responsibility for the materials they use.
Tell the brands and businesses you support that it’s time to change the way they use plastic.
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