Marine debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Chris Samoray
2 April 2014

( – Every year, 20 million tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans. In 2012, the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development dubbed marine plastic litter “a major environmental issue that the world must address,” and asked for management action by 2025. One group of researchers started early and was among the first to take on the Rio +20 call to tackle marine plastic pollution, presenting a “Top Ten” list of recommendations ranging from international treaties to public education and awareness programs.

“Plastic marine litter is far more than an aesthetic problem,” writes the team from the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability in a study published in UCLA’s Pritzker Environmental Law and Policy Briefs [pdf]. “Increasing harm to marine wildlife and rising economic costs provide an enormous incentive to tackle the global plastic marine litter problem more aggressively.”

The team suggests that international cooperation is among the most urgent action needed to better control marine plastic waste. One of their recommendations is an international treaty on par with the 1989 Montreal Protocol—an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer—that would employ strong monitoring, tracking and reporting practices, along with marine litter standards enforceable on a global scale.

Another international treaty the team proposes would ban some of the most common and damaging types of plastic pollution such as single-use plastic bags, foam food containers and fish-egg-sized pellets of plastic used for manufacturing purposes. These materials are often confused as food by marine organisms and can cause digestive problems or other health complications if consumed. Additionally, the treaty would mandate a transition to plastics that are recycled by a rate of at least 75 percent.

But implementing programs on this magnitude isn’t simple, according to Mark Gold, lead researcher and Associate Director and Coastal Center Director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA.

“The obstacles are enormous,” Gold said. “There are no effective multi-national environmental laws except the Montreal Protocol and the Antarctic Treaty. Lacks of mandatory monitoring, adequate reporting and enforcement have been enormous obstacles for these multi-national environmental agreements. Lack of funding to implement these programs is a major issue as well.” [more]

Is 20 millions tons enough? Scientists recommend plastic crackdown as oceans choke



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