UN Declares War on Ocean Plastic

February 23, 2017 – UN Environment launched today an unprecedented global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter: microplastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic by the year 2022.

Launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, the #CleanSeas campaign is urging governments to pass plastic reduction policies; targeting industry to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products; and calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits – before irreversible damage is done to our seas.

Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, said, "It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop."

Throughout the year, the #CleanSeas campaign will be announcing ambitious measures by countries and businesses to eliminate microplastics from personal care products, ban or tax single-use bags, and dramatically reduce other disposable plastic items.

Ten countries have already joined the campaign with far-reaching pledges to turn the plastic tide. Indonesia has committed to slash its marine litter by a massive 70 per cent by 2025; Uruguay will tax single-use plastic bags later this year and Costa Rica will take measures to dramatically reduce single-use plastic through better waste management and education.

Each year, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and costing at least $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. Up to 80 per cent of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic.

According to some estimates, at the rate we are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic.

Media personality Nadya Hutagalung supports #CleanSeas by calling on the cosmetics industry to stop adding microplastics to their products. As many as 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy – litter our seas, seriously threatening marine wildlife.

Singer-songwriter and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador Jack Johnson pledged to engage with fans and encourage venues for his 2017 Summer Tour to reduce single-use plastics. Johnson is also promoting a new documentary The Smog of the Sea, which highlights the issue of microplastics permeating the world’s oceans.

"I support the Clean Seas campaign because I believe there are better alternatives to single-use disposable plastics, and that we as consumers can encourage innovation and ask businesses to take responsibility for the environmental impact of the products they produce," said Jack Johnson.

"We can all start today by making personal commitments to reduce plastic waste by carrying reusable shoppings bags and water bottles, saying no to straws and choosing products without microbeads and plastic packaging. We can also support the efforts of the emerging youth leaders around the world working for healthy and plastic free oceans."

Globally recognized brands are also joining the fight. DELL Computers unveiled today a commercial-scale supply chain using plastic which has been fished out of the sea near Haiti. The computer giant will use the recovered ocean plastic in its product packaging.

"DELL is committed to putting technology and expertise to work for a plastic-free ocean," said Dell's Vice President for Global Operations Piyush Bhargava. "Our new supply chain brings us one step closer to UN Environment's vision of Clean Seas by proving that recycled ocean plastic can be commercially re used."

All these actions will be crucial to stemming the tide of marine litter. Today, we are producing twenty times more plastic than in the 1960s. Around one third of all plastic is used for packaging. By 2050 our plastic production will have to grow three to four times to satisfy our demand. A large portion will end up in oceans where it will remain for centuries.

Actor Adrian Grenier, known for his role in hit TV show and film Entourage, and founder of Lonely Whale Foundation has joined the #CleanSeas campaign, asking people to re-think their daily choices.

"Whether we choose to use plastic bags at the grocery store or sip through a plastic straw, our seemingly small daily decisions to use plastics are having a dramatic effect on our oceans," said Adrian Grenier. "We have the power to effect change.

"Today I take this public pledge to do my part to refuse single use plastics, starting with the plastic straw, and also reaffirm my commitment to work with leaders such as Dell to reduce plastic packaging. If we start with one small change and hold each another accountable, I believe that together we can inspire global action for the health of our oceans."

Major announcements are expected during The Ocean Conference in New York at the UN Headquarters 5 – 9 June, and the December UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.

Additional Quotes

Hamish Daud, Indonesian presenter and actor said: "We hail from one of the most beautiful places on the planet, but our nasty plastic addiction is slowly choking our precious coasts and the marine life we share them with. Join with me to turn the tide on plastic – together we must start saying ‘no’ to unnecessary plastic in our daily lives that is ending up in the sea – decline the plastic shopping bags, reject the straws, replace plastic bottles with filtered water. I stand today with UN Environment to urge governments, industry and consumers to put an end to our dangerous plastic habit."

Eneida de León, Minister of Housing, Territorial Planning and Environment of Uruguay: "Our goal is to discourage the use of plastic bags through regulations, give an alternative for workers in the waste sector, and develop education plans regarding the impact of the use of plastic bags on our environment. These actions are key to achieving sustainable development. Uruguay is committed to moving forward in that direction, and the Clean Seas campaign is certainly a very valuable contribution."

Edgar Gutiérrez Espeleta, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica: "Costa Rica recognizes the risks and damage caused by the effects of single-use plastic and non-recoverable micro plastics on the marine environment. We strongly favour the engagement of all relevant stakeholders, including civil society, private sector and all citizens to support national and global efforts. Only through a real and active engagement of all of us, with the help of dynamic partnerships, we will be able to effectively combat marine litter."

Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and the Environment of Norway: "Keeping our seas clean and our marine life safe from plastic is a matter of urgency for Norway. Marine plastic litter is a rapidly increasing threat to marine life, seafood safety and negatively affects the lives of people in coastal areas all around the world. We encourage every country in the world to join the Clean Seas campaign and develop effective measures to avoid single-use plastic ending up in the environment. Our oceans cannot wait any longer."

Nadya Hutagalung, media personality: "On bathroom shelves around the world sit products that are destroying life in our oceans. Tiny pieces of plastic in our face scrubs and toothpastes, used to make products feel smooth,  are washed away in drains to then fill the stomachs of marine animals who confuse it for food. No beauty product is worth destroying the world’s beautiful oceans, not to mention our own human well-being. There are alternatives! So let's choose what we buy carefully and together, with the combined power of our voice and our wallets, we can urge beauty companies to end their use of microbeads."

Segolene Royal, Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy: "I welcome the launch of the Global Marine Litter Campaign by UNEP, and I am pleased to announce that I have signed an agreement to support UNEP financially in our common fight against this global threat, in the context of the International coalition against plastic bags and plastic pollution."

Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly said: "The Ocean is the lifeblood of our planet, yet we are poisoning it with millions of tonnes of plastic every year. The time has come to turn the tide on marine litter. As the world's nations prepare for The Ocean Conference to be held in New York, 5 – 9  June, I urge all of them to join the Clean Seas campaign and make an ambitious pledge to reduce single-use plastic. Be it a tax on plastic bags or a ban on microbeads in cosmetics, each country to do their bit to maintain the integrity of life in the Ocean."

NOTES TO EDITORS

About #CleanSeas:

The #CleanSeas campaign is a global movement targeting governments, industry and consumers to urgently reduce the production and excessive use of plastic that is polluting the earth’s oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health. UN Environment aims to transform all spheres of change - habits, practices, standards and policies around the globe to dramatically reduce marine litter and the harm it causes.

Ten countries have already joined the campaign. They are: Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Grenada, Indonesia, Norway, Panama, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone and Uruguay.

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