50 nations 'curbing plastic pollution'

Roger Harrabin BBC 5 Jun 18;

Fifty nations are now taking action to reduce plastic pollution, according to the biggest report so far from the UN.

It reveals that the Galapagos will ban single-use plastics, Sri Lanka will ban styrofoam and China is insisting on biodegradable bags.

But the authors warn that far more needs to be done to reduce the vast flow of plastic into rivers and oceans.

What’s more, they say, good policies to curb plastic waste in many nations have failed because of poor enforcement.

Action against plastic waste has many drivers across the world. In the UK it has been stimulated by media coverage.

In many developing countries, plastic bags are causing floods by blocking drains, or they’re being eaten by cattle.

The report says policies to combat plastic waste have had mixed results. In Cameroon, plastic bags are banned and households are paid for every kilo of plastic waste they collect, but still plastic bags are being smuggled in.

In several countries, rules on plastic exist but are poorly enforced.

The report presents an A-Z of 35 potential bio substitutes for plastic. It runs from Abaca hemp (from the inedible banana Musa textilis) to Zein (from a maize protein).

The list includes rabbit fur, sea grass and foam made with fungus. It mentions QMilch, a firm that create casein textile fibres from waste milk.

It also highlights PiƱatex, a plastic alternative made from pineapple leaves.

Some policy-makers, though, are wary about hyping the potential of bio alternatives.

Early optimism by some environmentalists about biofuels backfired when rainforests were felled to grow palm oil to fuel cars.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said: "The assessment shows that action can be painless and profitable – with huge gains for people and the planet that help avert the costly downstream costs of pollution. Plastic isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it.”

The report says levies and bans – where properly planned and enforced – have been among the most effective strategies to curb plastic waste.

But the authors also cite a fundamental need for broader cooperation from business, including obliging plastic producers to take responsibility and offering incentives to stimulate more recycling.

National actions include:

Botswana – retailers charged but no enforcement and controls "failed".
Eritrea – ban on plastic bags and dramatic decrease in drain blockage
Gambia – ban on plastic bags, but "reappearance after political impasse"
Morocco – bags banned – 421 tonnes of them seized in one year, virtually replaced by fabric
Bangladesh – ban on bags but lack of enforcement
China – was using three billion bags a year pre-2008. Now there is a ban on thin bags, use decreased 60-80% in supermarkets but not in markets.
Vietnam – bags are taxed but still widely used. Government considering increasing tax five times
Ireland – tax led to 90% fall in consumption
Kenya – cows ingested an average of 2.5 bags in their lifetimes. Now there's a total ban, and fines and a four-year jail term for making, importing or using them


UN says world choking on plastic as environmental crisis grows
AFP Yahoo News 5 Jun 18;

Up to five trillion grocery bags are used each year and like most plastic garbage barely any is recycled, the UN said Tuesday as it warned the world was choking on trash.

In a report for International Environment Day, the UN warned at current levels the earth could be awash with 12 billion tonnes of plastic trash by the middle of the century.

"Our oceans have been used as a dumping ground, choking marine life and transforming some marine areas into a plastic soup," said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, in the report released in New Delhi.

"In cities around the world, plastic waste clogs drains, causing foods and breeding disease. Consumed by livestock, it also finds its way into the food chain."

Most of this plastic garbage clogging waterways and landfill is single-use items like straws, bags and cutlery.

The report said the five trillion plastic bags consumed each year equalled nearly 10 million plastic bags per minute.

"If tied together, all these plastic bags could be wrapped around the world seven times every hour."

Some 79 percent of the plastic ever made has ended up dumped, with hardly any reused or destroyed despite recycling and other initiatives to curb use, the report said.

Just nine percent of the nine billion tonnes of plastic the world has ever produced has been recycled. Only a little more -- 12 percent -- has been incinerated.

This leaves only landfill, oceans and waterways as the resting place for the world's plastic trash, where it takes thousands of years to decompose.

Plastic clogging sewers -- a major problem in Delhi and slums across the developing world -- can spread disease or wind up in the stomachs of animals, the UN said.

In India, plastic has been found inside dead cows while a whale in Thailand died after consuming waste bags.

Garbage floating at sea costs fishing, shipping and tourism industries in Asia-Pacific $1.3 billion a year, the report says.

The UN said more than 60 countries had introduced bans and levies on single-use plastic items like bags.

But better waste management, financial incentives to change consumers' buying habits and research into alternative materials were needed to make any real change, it added.

"To meet the rising tide of plastics, we urgently need strong government leadership and intervention," the report said.

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