Millennium Post

Perils of plastic

Perils of plastic
Pollution has taken an incalculable toll on our environment and plastic pollution has turned critical. It is now a global threat as plastic is strewn everywhere, even in the oceans. Tiny particles of plastic debris, often called microplastics, are so pervasive in aquatic ecosystems that they are found in seafood and table salt. Marine organisms ingest or are entangled by plastic, sometimes with fatal consequences. Research suggests that plastic pollution may impact biodiversity, ecosystem services, food security and human health. Indeed, plastics are accumulating across the globe at an astounding pace. The time is ripe for an international agreement with measurable reduction targets to lessen the plastic pollution in the world's oceans. Despite the ubiquity, persistence and cross-boundary nature of plastic pollution, stemming it is not an insurmountable task. The motivation for addressing the issue is building at the international level. Latest research has shown that an estimated 4.4–12.7 million metric tonnes of plastic is added to the oceans annually. Like many other contaminants, such as greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting substances, plastic is not constrained by national boundaries, because it migrates via water and air currents. More than 50 per cent of the ocean's area sits beyond national jurisdiction. This can affect organisms at every level of biological organisation altering gene expression, cells and tissues, causing death and altering population size and community structure. Microplastics can impair reproduction and development and alter how species function, disperse and assemble. These impacts, combined with evidence for accelerating plastic production and emissions into the environment, suggest that the international community should come together to limit future emissions of plastic now before they transform ecosystems irreparably. There are many regional, national and international strategies aimed at preventing and mitigating plastic pollution; but, none has the level of commitment that scales with the global magnitude and accelerating growth of the problem. Recent developments in international climate change policy may provide a template for drafting a global policy for plastic pollution. The scale and pace of solutions must match the scale and pace of emissions. Importantly, the ability to prevent and mitigate plastic pollution, locally and nationally, varies by nation and region because of resource availability for waste management. Many regions receive large imports of single-use plastic products, yet have an inadequate infrastructure for waste collection and management. Similar to the goals of a "green economy," the plastic economy can be stabilised, becoming more environmentally and socially responsible. To do this, producers and waste managers must work together to produce materials that can be managed sustainably. Solutions for one region may not be appropriate for another and a global fund should not dictate a specific solution, but it should provide the financial means for each region to flexibly reach an agreement's targets. Sadly, no single solution is likely to stop marine plastic pollution for good.
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