World’s biggest plastic producers join call for UN treaty fighting plastic pollution in oceans

Damaging plastic weighing same as 60,000 blue whales are dumped into oceans each year and forecast to rise, report says

Jane Dalton@JournoJane
Wednesday 14 October 2020 15:32
More than 11 million tonnes of plastic are discarded in the sea each year, the report says
More than 11 million tonnes of plastic are discarded in the sea each year, the report says

Some of the world’s biggest plastic producers, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, are joining a drive for a new international treaty to tackle plastic pollution in the sea.

The push comes as a report highlights how discarded plastic equivalent to the weight of about 60,000 blue whales are dumped into oceans each year – more than 11 million tonnes.

The drinks businesses, which last month were slated in research on plastic pollution,  backed the call by environmental charities for a UN treaty urging governments to negotiate a global agreement on plastic pollution.

Nearly 30 businesses, also including Danone, H&M, Mars, Nestlé, Tesco, and Unilever have backed the call, which is the first such collective corporate action, and organisers are urging more private companies to join.

A resolution to start negotiations on such a treaty is expected to be tabled at the next session of the UN environmental assembly in February.

According to the UN itself, plastic waste kills up to a million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles and countless fish each year. 

Plastic remains in the ecosystem for years, harming thousands of sea creatures every day.  

Lost and discarded fishing gear accounts for 10 per cent of all marine litter and continues to kill turtles, seabirds and marine mammals as well as fish.

One study found plastic in every marine turtle examined, 59 per cent of whales, 36 per cent of seals and 40 per cent of seabird species. 

The organisations behind the plea to the UN – WWF, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Boston Consulting Group – issued a report saying a global agreement setting out goals, action plans and binding targets are needed to truly tackle the problem on a global scale.

The document says the global volume of plastic entering the ocean is forecast to triple over the next 20 years.

WWF’s Living Planet report last month revealed that the destruction of nature has led to a 68 per cent average drop in global wildlife populations since 1970, and that nowhere in the ocean is entirely unaffected by humans.  

Paula Chin, a sustainable materials specialist at WWF, said: “Nature is in freefall, and plastic pollution continues to be one of the most visible signs of the environmental crisis. This is a global problem that demands a global solution.”  

Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, said: “We have seen important steps taken by businesses and governments in addressing plastic pollution over recent years. More than 500 organisations have signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, setting clear targets to achieve a circular economy for plastic in which it never becomes waste or pollution. But voluntary initiatives alone are not enough.”

The Changing Markets Foundation last month accused Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé of “hypocrisy” as its report claimed they had made public pledges to cut plastic use while undermining sustainability reforms through lobbying groups and trade associations. It said many companies had “aggressively opposed” or attempted to delay legislation designed to tackle the plastics crisis.

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