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Plastic pollution in oceans ‘unprecedented’

PARIS — Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans has reached “unprecedented levels” over the past 15 years, a new study has found, calling for a legally-binding international deal to stop the harmful litter.

Plastic pollution in the oceans is an ongoing problem around the world – animals can become entangled in larger pieces of plastic, such as fishing nets, or ingest microplastics that eventually make their way up the food chain to be consumed by humans.

Research released on Wednesday found that there are an estimated 170 trillion pieces of plastic, mostly microplastics, on the surface of the world’s oceans today, much of which has been discarded since 2005.

“Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans has reached unprecedented levels over the past 15 years,” says the study, published in the open-access journal Plus one.

The amounts were higher than previous estimates, and the study found that the rate of plastic entering the oceans could accelerate many times over in the coming decades if left unchecked.

Researchers took plastic samples from over 11,000 stations around the world, focusing on a 40-year period between 1979 and 2019.

They found no trends until 1990, then a trend fluctuation between 1990 and 2005. After that the samples skyrocket.

“We’re seeing a really fast increase since 2005 because production is ramping up quickly and also a limited set of policies controlling the release of plastic into the oceans,” contributing author Lisa Erdle told AFP.

The sources of plastic pollution in the ocean are numerous.

Fishing gear like nets and buoys often end up in the middle of the ocean, sunk or accidentally dropped, while things like clothing, car tires and single-use plastics often end up polluting near shore.

They eventually break down into microplastics, which Erdle says can look like “confetti on the surface of the sea.”

“Tide of Toxic Products”

If current trends continue, plastic consumption in the G20 countries will nearly double from 2019 to 2050, reaching 451 million tons per year, according to the report, produced jointly by Economist Impact and The Nippon Foundation.

In 1950, only two million tons of plastic were produced worldwide.

Recycling has done little to solve the environmental problem, even in countries with advanced waste management systems, as only a small percentage of plastics are properly recycled and often end up in landfills instead.

If landfills are not managed properly, plastic waste can enter the environment and eventually end up in the oceans.

“We’re really seeing a lack of recycling, a deluge of toxic products and packaging,” Erdle said.

Between 1990 and 2005, plastic waste levels were seen to decrease in some places, partly because there were some effective pollution control policies in place.

These include the 1988 Marpol Treaty, a legally binding agreement between 154 countries to end the disposal of plastics from naval, fishing and shipping fleets.

But with so much more plastic being produced today, the study’s authors say a new, far-reaching agreement is needed to not only reduce the production and use of plastic, but to better manage its disposal.

“Recycling plastics in the environment has limited benefits, so solution strategies need to address those systems that limit emissions of plastic pollution in the first place,” the study says.

Last year, 175 nations agreed to end plastic pollution under a legally binding UN agreement that could be finalized as early as next year.

Key measures being negotiated include a global ban on single-use plastics, a “polluter pays” principle and a tax on new plastic production.

The total weight of plastic pollution detected in the ocean today is estimated at 2.3 million tons PLOS study said.

It examined samples in the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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