Talking about pollution: Plastic is very much on our menu

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Gordon Kricke - The Philippine Star

There is a massive dump of floating plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean. It is huge and it is growing. The so called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is with approximately 1.6 million sq km about as big as Central Europe. But that is not all. The real problem is even much more serious. Plastic is everywhere in the oceans. You can find it even in the most remote places, polluting the waters or littering the beaches. While some is dumped directly into the seas, an estimated 80 percent of marine litter makes its way there gradually from land-based sources including those far inland via storm drains, sewers, and other routes.

Plastic has become one of the greatest environmental challenges the world is facing. It is estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, and 99 percent of the planet’s seabirds will have eaten some. Not only does plastic kill marine life and choke seabirds, but toxic fragments from plastic can end up in the seafood we eat. It requires decades to break down and even then continues to pose as microplastic a health risk for marine life and people. On average every person who eats seafood swallows up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic every year, according to a study by researchers at the University of Ghent in Belgium. It is simply not yet known how the human body processes plastic after it is swallowed, including whether chemicals leach out of the plastic into the body and might cause inflammation.

Of all the waste we generate, plastic bags and plastic bottles are perhaps the greatest symbol of our throwaway society. They are used just for a moment, then forgotten, and they leave a terrible legacy. The situation isn’t hopeless though. The best way to cut plastic waste is to cut plastic production and consumption. That is what the EU Commission is currently working on. It already proposed rules to reduce or ban single-use plastics such as plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink containers and lightweight plastic bags and substitute them with cleaner alternatives.

In Germany these proposals are supported by the large majority of the population according to surveys. More than 73 percent of Germans would like to see a ban on single-use plastics in order to reduce garbage and to protect the environment.

The initiative of the EU Commission is certainly very important and it can contribute to better protect the environment. But it alone cannot solve the problem of our polluted seas. The amount of plastic garbage in the oceans coming from Europe is already relatively small. The problem is global and needs a joint effort. In a recent study the advocacy group “Ocean Conservancy” claims that more than half of the plastic waste that enters the world’s seas comes from just five countries in Asia.

It is not only governments that have to tackle the issue and have to find solutions. It is a shared responsibility for all of us. “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a motto that should be followed by consumers and producers equally.

The German development cooperation supports in many countries projects to improve solid waste management and to reduce marine litter. I am happy that there are also projects in the Philippines and in neighboring countries, like the “Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape Project,” where we work together with the authorities to protect the fragile marine environment.

The perspective of the world’s oceans becoming a waste dump needs an increased level of international cooperation. To save the oceans from being slowly asphyxiated by ever more plastic garbage and to protect humans from potential health risks are worth all possible efforts from governments and individuals. We cannot survive without our oceans which cover more than 70 percent of the planet. Much more has to be done to protect them – and it has to be done now.

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(Gordon Kricke is the Ambassador of Germany.)




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